Friday, January 29, 2010

The Band Gratitude, and Where is Rock Going Today?

Originally posted on August 12, 2008

Here a first CD by a band named Gratitude (Atlantic) and it has a thick wall of guitars and urgent vocals in the alt mode. The songs have a kick. Surely these guys are worthy of attention. Will they get it?

Is rock something people listen to before they get married and become square? Or are they listening to hip-hop now in pre-marriage rites of passage? There was a time when jazz was the idiom of pop music, of most hit songs, of Wrigley gum and five-day deodorant pad commercials and all the rest. The more jazz saturated everything, becoming "establishment," pervading all audio tracks on radio and tv, the more the seeds were sown for it to be overthrown by a new generation's need to rebel. Jazz was then left to those musicians wanting to perfect and further it's possibilities, to become an art music outside the mainstream.

I believe rock is undergoing the same transition. Ultimately CDs might sell less, but listeners become more discerning and contra the big hit stream and whoever represents that to the public. And the public for the “big pop hit” music shrinks and bifurcates at the same time.

The music section of my cable tv offerings contains nearly 100 different categories of music. Thirty years ago, that might have been closer to 30, tops. Ultimately, this is healthy for music, but not healthy for the big-profits music industry at large, I suppose. Whatever will be, eh? Meanwhile Gratitude is pretty nice.

Boredoms No. 8: Anything But Boring

Originally posted on August 11, 2008

There’s an EP reissued on Vice in the Boredoms series (Boredoms Super Roots, No. 8) that consists of three radically different versions of a particular song. Boredoms is a long-lived Japanese avant-rock outfit (see earlier blog entry for more) and this CD gives you some unconventional twists and turns on a somewhat conventional melody-rhythm. It shows real imagination. But it only runs 14 minutes, so be aware of that. And what else can I say on a Monday morning at 7:39 AM?

Ike Turner in a Less Than Stellar Mode

Originally posted on August 8, 2008

You figure the stuff Ike Turner did for Sun records must be great, right? Well it isn’t. The Kings of Rhythm featuring Ike Turner (Varese Saraband) gives you a complete overview of those sessions and most are luke-warm.

It is obvious that Ike was feeling his way, trying to find a formula for hit making. There are good moments, moments of raw, powerful r and b, but many of the cuts fall flat. C’est la Vie.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mott the Hoople, London to Memphis

Originally posted on August 7, 2008

Mott the Hoople had their day in the sun and went the way of most rock bands. . . as all did eventually. Along the way they cut some wax that still sounds worthy and has importance in the history of the music. My favorite was their first, with the MC Escher cover, because it had some raw power unduplicated in later releases. They were one of the first of Post-Stone groups and one of the best.

Their third album (I think) London to Memphis (Collectibles) was another good one. “All the Way from Memphis” and “All the Young Dudes” give you the band in all its glory. The Collectibles issue is going for cheap, so now is the time to grab it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

DFA's Fourth: Italian Prog Rock Mastery

Originally posted on August 6, 2008

Italian prog rock band DFA released their fourth CD (DFA Fourth) (MoonJune) this summer. It marks a bit of a change in direction from a sort of post-Yes rock and vocals orientation to a more fusion-oriented approach. This one, like the others, shows off some excellent musicianship. There are really excellent moments, and a few moments that don’t completely overwhelm.

It is a more subtle album than the previous ones, less hard, more in the mellow bag. For those familiar with the last three, this will add another dimension to their body of work. For those new to the band, one of the earlier ones is a better place to start, I think. They remain one of the more interesting prog rock bands active today.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks

Originally posted on August 5, 2008

Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks had some success in the late ‘60s following in the wake of Kweskin’s Jugband and a music world flirtation with the music of the ‘20s (the latter with some perhaps ill-advised hits like “Winchester Cathedral” and “Little White Lies.”) Hicks had a casually irreverent, humorous delivery that had charm. A couple years ago he made a comeback disk (Selected Shorts) (Surfdog) and it’s pretty cool.

First of all, something I didn’t notice in the early records, he plays a mean archtop acoustic-electric, sounding a little like Django. He has sound and facility. The tunes are done laconically and with irony by Hicks and his tongue-in-cheek backup vocalists. It is mostly contemporary material in a kind of swing-string band ‘30s style. Selected Shorts is the sort of disk that lifts the mood. I hope he records again soon. He is at the top of his creative powers and a real pleasure to hear.

Monday, January 25, 2010

O.A.R.? Dunno.

Originally posted on August 1, 2008

Here’s a new rock-pop conflagration that has crossed my desk. O.A.R. is their name [album: In Between Now and Then (Atlantic)] and they vary between a kind of bouncy Jason Mraz sound and almost a jamband without much in the way of the jams.

Electric guitar, acoustic-electric, bass, drums and tenor sax underpin the vocals. Some of the stuff is catchy. Instrumentally they are not incompetent. I suppose they could be big. Late teens and college age folks will decide that, I guess.

Blue Oyster Cult's First Album: Looking Back

Originally posted on August 4, 2008

The rock world in 1972 was in turmoil. Some of the classic late ‘60s bands had faded, victims of various misfortunes or stagnancy. Punk was in its incipient stages, Disco had not quite begun its pollution of the music scene, Fusion was beginning to enter a commercial phase that eventually ruined it for a time. Progressive rock was pretty strong, but the germination of the seeds of excess were planted.

What about plain old rock? New bands were appearing, some better than others. One of those better ones was Blue Oyster Cult. Their first, self-titled album (Columbia) appeared in January of 1972 and did not set the world on fire, but in retrospect deserves a listen. They had a hard rock edge and some solid material, even on that first offering. The CD sounds timeless; the style still lives on. The record is now going for cheap and it includes four bonus tracks—demos that landed them the record deal. Surprisingly decent.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guitarist Marc Ribot, 1999

Originally posted on July 31, 2008

Electric guitarist, bandleader, conceptualist Marc Ribot has been a darling of the downtown NYC scene for some time. So why am I just catching up with his 1999 album Yo! I Killed Your God (Tzadik)? No reason, just haven’t until now. He plays with a quartet live on this one, sometimes plus or minus a few musicians. There is a jagged, cubist, post Captain Beefheart thing happening, some raving rave-up punk insanity, along with an anything goes approach to avant rock that uses no safety net and sometimes succeeds wonderfully, sometimes falls 100 feet into a glass of water (remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon with that feat?).

So those receptive will appreciate this. Those not predisposed will probably hate it. He can play, for sure, in his own way. The spirit of sarcastic fun prevails. It’s worth picking up if you like edgy Rock with a kind of irreverent, macabre humor.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Jaco Pastorious Anthology: Punk Jazz

Originally posted on July 30, 2008

Jaco Pastorious revolutionized the way the electric bass could be played. No one before him had the technique, and a new sound that ranged from percussive to distinctively expressive. He accepted the role of the instrument as the bottom foundation of a musical spectrum, then added solo and accompaniment styles that made the bass guitar as fully a musical instrument as any guitar, keyboard, or reed contrivance. Nobody utilized the entire range of the instrument as he did. He could go from rapid single note articulations to full chords and harmonic clusters in a snap, always with a sound that could be mistaken for no other.

He ruled, if anybody did in this world. Then he ran into personal problems, died tragically, and all we have left are the recordings. Much of the choice stuff can be found on Rhino’s two-CD set Punk Jazz: The Jaco Pastorious Anthology.

Now I can’t help feeling that some of the excerpts deserved to be heard in the context of complete albums—the Albert Mangelsdorf, the early Pat Metheny album, the first Jaco solo album, the wonderful collaborations with Joni Mitchell. But if for whatever reason you only want one example, this is probably will do it. The set covers his entire (short) career, from the first r&b recordings through Weather Report and on to his later big band recordings. The very first and very last things aren’t always as great as the middle period, but it all represents Jaco well for his inimitable bass prowess.

Bassist Henry Grimes and His Album on ESP

Originally posted on July 29, 2008

In 1965 bassist Henry Grimes was seemingly in a good place in the jazz world. He had played with more than a few of the classic jazz artists and was especially in demand in avant circles. But a few years later he literally disappeared from the music world; Grimes stopped playing altogether, leading a day-to-day life far removed from his former existence. He ended up in San Francisco where he was rediscovered a few years ago, given a bass and is now back on the scene.

He recorded one album under his own name back in the sixties and ESP has wisely decided to reissue it as part of their extensive revival. The Call is a trio with clarinet, bass and drums, the great Perry Robinson taking the reed spot. It is a mini-gem of “new thing” music, controlled, thought-provoking and filled with miniature classics. Robinson is in top form, Grimes right there with him. Drummer Tom Price plays freely and sets up the improvisations of the two masters with sensitivity. This is "out" music with a soul and a brain. It sounds as contemporary now as it did in 1965. Tomorrow, we extend the bass playing theme with some Jaco.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fields, An Interesting Alternative Band

Originally posted on July 28, 2008

About a year ago a rock-pop-alt band released Everything Last Winter (Atlantic). The group is Fields and they are very good indeed. It’s one of those bands whose vocals (vaguely Byrds-like), songs, and instrumental abilities are all first rate. The lyrics have intelligence.

It is a band that has everything going for it. Expect solid acoustic and electric guitar cranking and crisp drum and bass tandems. The production jumps out at you. I hope they continue on and get the success they deserve. Check them out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Echoes" by the California Guitar Trio

Originally posted on July 25, 2008

After 13 CDs under their belt, you’d think that the California Guitar Trio would have spent their musical capital and gone separate ways, as is the case with so many musical groups today. Not so. Their association with Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists must have given them the sort of inspiration that allows them to fashion a large repertoire of music over time. Like Fripp’s guitar ensemble, the trio deftly arranges for what is at hand, and they perform with a blend of acoustic and electric guitars that speak as one musical body.

The new release, Echoes (Inner Knot), is a rather zany, eclectic assortment of re-creations. Some examples: part of Beethoven’s Fifth (which seems unnecessary), old Pink Floyd psychedelia, the theme from “Tubular Bells,” a great old Ventures surf tune, and an arrangement of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which actually works out quite alright. Like the Chronos Quartet, they seem to take pleasure in combining unexpected pieces from various categories and giving them new life with clever arrangements.

That’s fine, but I’d like to see them break out of that mould and do something unique and of a piece, like a Frank Zappa extended composition rearranged for the ensemble, or something by one of the prominent minimalists. I don’t mean to be picky since the level of musicianship is high. In any event this is an enjoyable set and will appeal to anyone who wants to hear a lot of guitar in a free-ranging setting.

Giuseppi Logan Quartet ESP Disk Reissued

Originally posted on July 24, 2008

When you think of early free jazz reed players circa 1964, you probably don’t immediately think of Giuseppi Logan. He did not make much of a mark and virtually disappeared soon after that time. ESP Disk released two records by Mr. Logan, the initial one made in ‘64. Simply titled The Giuseppi Logan Quartet, the first record was not especially notable for Logan’s playing, although his writing had a nice tang.

More importantly the backing musicians on that date were embarking on the first phases of very productive careers in the music. Don Pullen is on piano, and already is in full force attack mode. Eddie Gomez wields an energetic and limber upright bass and Milford Graves (see entry below) plays the drum kit with the dynamic style that distinguishes him from other drummers at the time. Graves never got the prolonged recognition he deserved, though he did create his own approach in the panorama of free jazz drum possibilities.

This newly reissued album is not a classic. It does have great interest as a historical document and also gives you a challenging listen. Tomorrow we take a look at an all-guitar group of interest.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rokia Traore and New African Music

Originally posted on July 23, 2008

If you go to a bricks and mortar CD store and they are thorough enough to have a bin dubbed “Africa,” you are likely to find almost anything, from traditional tribal to slick “world music” releases veering on disco at their worst. It makes sense though. If you were in an African store and looked in a bin labeled “USA,” what consistency would you expect to find at that level?

Be that as it may, if you found the CD Brownboi (Nonesuch-Tama) in that African bin, you would have an offering by female singer Rokia Traore that straddles the fence between tradition and modern in a way that does not lose the continuity of possible styles in play. She sounds West African; there are West African harps and the percussion has the sound of that region. As is all-too-often the case, there are no liner notes to explain what this is. No matter.

We get western strings occasionally, well arranged, a nice acoustic guitar presence, and a very good singer singing strong material. I don’t know if she is big over there or not, but this CD encourages me as far as what a modern African music can sound like. It retains the roots and adds modern colors of western derived styles without diluting the original impetus. In other words it sounds good!

Milford Graves and Some Rolling Thunder

Originally posted on July 22, 2008

Does the rolling thunder and cracking rim shots of a freely articulated, out-of-time drum duet make your blood boil, at least potentially? If so the Milford Graves Percussion Ensemble with Sunny Morgan is a classic pioneering effort in that vein from 1965. ESP has just reissued it.

The two players are after pure sound and dramatic bombast and they succeed completely. It’s a drummer’s holiday from the need to accompany. They surely rise to the occasion. Kudos to ESP for these reissues!

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in A Less Than Stellar Mode

Originally posted on July 21, 2008

Bands that evolve are potentially interesting—or not, depending on where they are going. Case in point: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. They started out riding the crest of the Brian Setzer jump-boogie revival.

By the time the CD on the changer right now [Save My Soul (Big Bad, 2003)] came out, they had augmented that with what sounds like New Orleans party music. Well, they seem to try hard, but it falls short. There aren’t enough cajones in the vocals, for starters. And it just doesn’t lie comfortably on the speakers. It doesn’t sound quite “real.”

There are other, better records by this band. Start with them.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tsigoti Initiates Their Aural Mayhem with First Album

The punk-avant outfit Tsigoti hails from New York. Not surprising. One might have trouble picturing this group making their way playing strip malls in South Dakota. They are brash, insistent. They have a political agenda that assuredly does not correspond to what Dick Cheney would like to embrace. I don't imagine that Tsigoti's first album Private Poverty Speaks (ESP) would find its way onto his CD player very often.

ESP in halcyon days was courageous in releasing rock and what-have-you far removed from the mainstream. The Fugs, The Godz and other groups supplied a bracingly toxic shock to middle America around 1965 or so, and the music world was never the same after. Will Tsigoti have a similar effect today? I don't think so.

This is a band that is first and foremost political. They are out front with a sloganeering sort of approach. This to me is a healthy sign that free speech is working in our system. On the other hand my primary concern is with music, regardless of it's content (up to a point). Otherwise I'd be listening exclusively to the Internationale or God Bless America. Actually neither.

So what of the music? It's punky and outside the norm. The band features a beat up piano, guitars, bass and drums and the sort of raw punkish vocals that have been a part of the scene for a long time. I'll be honest. Some of it falls flat musically. Instead of a cannonball, you get a belly flop. On the other hand there are some very interesting moments. If you like a raw punk sound, this will seem familiar and yet not. It's post-punk in that it does not have a much thrashing in its foundations. There are some adventures in store for the listener. I doubt if anybody would like all of this. Some will like none of it. There's a solid ten minutes of good stuff here, to my ears. That's basically my take on it.

Coral "Magic and Medicine"

Originally posted on July 18, 2008

Concerned with the history of all musics and with what’s going on now, I always seem to have one foot in the past and the other in the future. So when a group comes along that incorporates earlier rock stylings with a contemporary outlook, I take notice. So a little more alt here with a CD released a few years ago.

I don’t know much of anything about the Coral. I was streaming a progressive web radio station when they played one of their cuts, which had a bit of jamming and I liked that. The CD turned out to be Magic and Medicine (Columbia) and it has a bonus disk of two of their earlier EPs. They have an attractive, rawly conceived ‘60s-meets-today sound. The tunes are not especially strong, but instrumentally I like what they are doing. I wonder where they will go from this?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fish (Not Phish) Releases 13th Album

Originally posted on July 17, 2008

Guitarist-singer-songwriter Fish released his 13th album this summer. Who knew there were that many? Some were made with his original band affiliation Marillion, the rest solo. This one, 13th Star, combines a prog sensibility with almost a Cat Stevens song-singing approach and some harder rock elements. It has an expansive sweep, with the theme a journey through life. It has a nice feel to it. If you like your prog serious, yet with an occasional slight pop veneer, here you go.

FLA Conflates Genres on "Vanished" EP

Originally posted on July 16, 2008

Who combines a little prog rock/alt with industrial, electronica and a little house? I suppose several folks do, but FLA has the immediacy of a CD on my computer with the EP Vanished (Metropolis).

There are so many clich├ęs, so many temptations to banality with a project like this. But whoever these guys are, they don’t succumb. They have an edgy outlook and it makes an amalgam like this interesting rather than a dull commodity so much music product can be today.

A Three Hour Survey of the Music of Ennio Morricone

Originally posted on July 15, 2008

Italian composer Ennio Morricone has written and scored hundreds upon hundreds of movie soundtracks since the sixties. Everybody knows his theme from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, but there is far more to him than that. MOMA affiliate PS1 in Long Island City, NY, has devoted a three-hour retrospective to his music on their web radio at

Go to “Archives,” go to “Sonarama” and then scroll down to “The Music of Ennio Morricone” and click. If you have the time, you are in for some rather amazing music: rock with interesting guitar riffs, modern classical orchestral, big band Jazz, experimental, and just plain weird. He’s done some amazing things, most of which are obscure and/or out of print. Don’t miss this if you want to explore some unknown tracks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Magenta's Fourth A Dark Gothic Sprawl

Originally posted on July 14, 2008

English prog rock is alive and most well. It can be heard in one of the finest bands, Magenta, who have their fourth album out this summer, Metamorphosis (Laser’s Edge). It is an expanded, dark Gothic sprawl of wonderful music. Long cuts of beautiful, well arranged songs fill the CD.

Christina Booth is a sensitive vocal instrument that gives the music a real identity. Chris Fry plays a great lead guitar. The lyrics fit the mood of the era. Nice string arrangements add symphonic resonance to the soundscape. It’s simply one of the best prog rock albums I’ve heard this year. If you like the edge of Evanescence and the classic elegance of Renaissance, here’s a band that does them one better. Grab it and you will not be disappointed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Guitarist Jamie Fox Worth Your Attention

Originally posted on July 11, 2008

There is a guitarist out there named Jamie Fox and he is very good. He has an album out called When I Get Home that I reviewed earlier for Cadence Magazine, so I won’t go into detail about that, except to say that it is very subtle contemporary jazz in a kind of post-Metheny bag. It has really good tunes and nice playing.

Go to his website and check out clips from that and other things as well. If you listen to the r&b/blues cuts there, you’ll hear another aspect of his playing and some fabulous solos that stand out for their originality.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ozric Tentacles Return with 25th Year Celebration Album

Originally posted on July 10, 2008

The Band Ozric Tentacles celebrates its 25th year with a stunning release [Sunrise Festival (Snapper)] that combines the old fashioned blow-out space jam with very effective use of synthesizers and Ed’s phenomenal psychedelic-metal guitar presence.

It was recorded live at the Sunrise Festival June 2007 in Bearley, England. There’s a CD and a DVD of the show in a nice booklet form. It rocks! Anyone into the outer echelons of the jamband scene needs this one! Cascades of sound wash through your consciousness in wave after wave. It’s really well done. Get it.

Drummer David Winograd's First

Originally posted on July 9, 2008

Today’s CD will not be winning any awards. Rock drummer David Winograd heads a jamming unit on Pictures at an Existentialism (Wondercap). Mostly there are drums, reeds and piano. The result is what you might expect from a free jam by rockers.

It has moments of interest and even though it is not electric until the end, it often sounds like some free interludes you might hear on a prog rock album. And that is fine. It is charming in how it does not sound like free jazz. The last cut sails (and I wish Winograd had done more of it). It is a sort of free metal thing, with Davie Allen on blazing guitar and D. J. Bonebrake (from X) on vibes, among others. That cut is very cool.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hugh Hopper and Yumi Cawkwell on "Dune"

Originally posted on July 8, 2008

[The late] Hugh Hopper, an electric bassist who impressed the musical community through his pioneering bass work with Soft Machine beginning in the late sixties, shows that he can remain on the bleeding edge of the music with his latest release, a collaboration with keyboardist and vocalist Yumi Hara Cawkwell. Dune (MoonJune) maps out aural landscapes that are populated with ambient, flowing sound events.

Hopper’s bass playing is adventurous. Effects, loops, layering and a distinct, cosmic-oriented tonal arsenal are well in hand on this disk. Yumi provides a suitable and compelling stylistic counterpart with a chant-like vocal style steeped in Eastern sensibility and a keyboard approach that goes from drone to free articulations. This is free rock, I suppose you could say. There are no beats to speak of, but every piece is a miniature world of sound that evokes mind journeys to far away and exotic spaces. It is as dream provoking as it is musically provocative.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Faming Lips: Prog Bubble Gum Music?

Originally posted on July 7, 2008

I’ve been catching up on some alt rock classics, as anybody who’s been reading the blog knows. Now I’ve been putting my ears to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by Flaming Lips (Warner Brothers). OK the subject matter is intriguing, as is the cool cartoon on the cover. But the music seems just a little limpid, like a soundtrack to an anime cartoon.

It’s music to accompany something. But what? I shouldn’t be too hard on these folks. At least it’s creative. And maybe I haven’t listened enough yet. Still, this cannot be said to be a classic. It has the pop jangle. Some prog moments. Sometimes it sounds like prog bubble gum, something for a 9 year old to dig. Tommy for pre-teens? Not my thing, but they try pretty hard.

The Cut Chemists Take Turntabling A Step Ahead

Originally posted on July 3, 2008

Turntablists are usually OK. Just OK. Sometimes they seem to have become formulaic. The same old squeaks and gurgles. But the Cut Chemists take it much further into creative stratospheres. They bring the cutting, mixing and adding of original instruments and vocals to the realm of pop art.

The Audience’s Listening (Beatdown) combines all of these elements with a sense of humor and some wake-up musical moments. Brazilian samba transformed, rock and hip hop literally re-formed. . . and some moments that are simply zany. I am not generally one to go for this sort of thing. The Cut Chemists convince me that all cannot be said to be lost. Musical imagination still thrives out there in some places, whatever the medium.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Prog Rock Anthem "Tuner" by Totem Reissued

Originally posted on July 2, 2008

Take ex-King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto and German multi-instrumentalist and touch guitarist Markus Reuter and you have the nucleus of the group Tuner. Their first release Totem (2005) has just been reissued on Unsung Records. It is a wildly wide-ranging prog rock journey through all sorts of moods and modes.

There are some Crimson-like rock forays, a wonderful spot for synthesized voice, and one of the musically hottest accompanied rock drum solos I’ve heard in a long time. It’s most definitely a sonic excursion that should not be missed, if you like the prog rock thing.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Zombies: Longevity vs. Nostalgia

Originally posted on July 1, 2008

Something old? I’ve been listening to a Zombies Greatest Hits CD (Disky) and as usual with the bargain compilations, when they don't have enough hits, they throw in songs that people have heard of, but weren’t made famous by the artist. Nevertheless, there are the old chestnuts “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No” and “Time of the Season,” along with seven other group originals. That makes ten out of fourteen, which is OK.

The group sounds so sparse by today’s standards. Bass, drums, keys, and a guitar most of the time, and that’s it. No double tracking or extra instruments....The originals still wear well to me, although there were other British groups that were more prolific. These sorts of oldies may or may not appeal to generations following the peak time for the style. I think the Kinks (early, at least), Stones and Beatles can still appeal to younger listeners. Not so sure about guys like the Dave Clark Five or The Searchers. Nostalgia is one thing, longevity in the history of music is another. But the Zombies still have their moments for today, I believe.