Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bassist Reuben Radding Explores Free Dimensions in Download Series

Reposting from, March 2009. We’ve been through enough lately to know that you must keep your eyes open and your powder dry. But it's a new season, so savor the moment, for those of you who have some sun. If not, revel in our existence if at all possible. It’s all a big mystery whatever you might believe. And it is a privilege to exist, when you think of it.

What’s on the docket today? Bassist Reuben Radding, an East Coast fellow. He did the unthinkable in 2007. Once a month he posted an entire CD’s worth of unreleased music free for download. (You can still get these at Mr. Radding is an imaginative, skillful bass principal in the improv mode. And his downloads show him off effectively in a variety of settings: solo, duo, small groups of various configurations. One of my favorites is his November offering, a duet performance with alto saxist Travis Sullivan. It’s a wide ranging gallop into various mood-zones, always musical and filled with great two-way dialogs. I don’t know anything about Travis, but based on this recording he surely deserves more attention. And Reuben is right there with him. It’s a quite fetching slice of spontaneous music making.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Michael Gregory (Jackson's) Masterful "Clarity" Reissued

Michael Gregory Jackson, now known simply as Michael Gregory, made an album back in 1977 that established him as a rising star in the new jazz and improvisation world that had emerged full blown from the vital loft, non-traditional scene. The album, Clarity, had the makings of a classic and today, with the reissue of the album on ESP (3028), it can be said with no hesitation that it is among the most important and profound recordings of the era.

Well why, you ask? It framed Michael Gregory the guitarist, vocalist and composer in a very excellent light, both by himself and with the very best of the then emerging players of the movement, namely, Oliver Lake on reeds and miscellaneous percussion, David Murray on tenor, and Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet, fluegelhorn, etc.

What was (and continues to be) rare was Michael Gregory's combination of great lyricism and puckish chamber avant singularity. There are sharply memorable ensemble pieces of great fluency, there is a song (part of the title cut) for Michael's vocal instrument, accompanied by guitar (and it is unforgettable for its content and artistry) and there are some remarkable solo acoustic guitar moments. Finally, there are passages of free improvisation that show the considerable gifts of the musicians while still fitting perfectly with the lyrical quality throughout.

Jackson's mostly acoustic guitar style is in abundant evidence all through the album. You'll no doubt be captivated (like I was and still am) when he gives out with arpeggiated lines that show his totally gifted approach to the instrument, his unique way with picking out particular phrases that hang together as a coherent statement yet are beautifully different.

The album worked for me from the first hearing I gave it back then. It was most definitely one of the standout albums of the later part of the '70s. Listening today, I find that the music does not diminish in stature but in fact sounds even better and more original than it did back then. It's prime for Michael Gregory, his guitar and his music, it's prime for the really excellent sympathetic performances of his fellow improvisers, and its prime as an artistic statement of where the music can be (and of course is). This one gets my highest recommendation. Bravo to ESP for re-releasing it; bravo for Michael Gregory for making it!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bassist-Composer Jamie Ousley's "Back Home"

Bass players used to be a more or less unsung lot. Yes, Paul Chambers, Charlie Mingus and Oscar Pettiford (OK, yeah, also Red Mitchell and Curtis Counce) led groups and made great records, but there didn't seem to be many of them that could sustain or maintain prolonged attention. All that changed a while ago and these days you find quite a few good players fronting bands.

One of them making a bid for the limelight is one Jamie Ousley, who has a beautiful tone, a matter-of-fact melodic solo style that has something in common with the great Charlie Haden in it's deliberation.

And he has a new, second album that will be hitting the stores this summer, Back Home (TIE 1076). For that effort he relies on the basic piano trio of himself, pianist Phillip Strange on piano, and Larry Marshall on drums. This is a most pleasing, melifluent nucleus that gets some heavy company: Ira Sullivan, on fluegelhorn, soprano, and alto flute, sounding as good as ever, Ed Calle on soprano, three different vocalists on three songs, and a number of others. The emphasis is on Ousley's compositional aplomb. He writes some very nice tunes that don't fade into a generic woodwork. They stand out as lyricism with grit, not sentimental but always tuneful. They range from Latin-tinged episodes like "Pasaje Tennessee," the balladic memorability of the title cut, and a range of other feels and formats, always effective and melodically distinct. Oh, and there are a few unusually treated covers, like the flamenco steeped "My Favorite Things," or a calypso version of one of Chopin's well-known Nocturnes.

Ousley comes up with a knockout. You might be finding yourself flat on your back on the canvas while someone counts, or no, that's the drums. But you'll just be happy anyway. Happy that you're hearing some very fetching music. Sorry that that will have to wait until its August 1st release date. It's worth a few days. It's good!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Vintage Soft Machine: "Drop" with Phil Howard

March 4, 2009—When an established working band changes a member the result is unpredictable. And when that member is the drummer, the entire attack and direction of the band can alter dramatically. The classic Coltrane Quartet, for example, sounded quite different when Roy Haynes substituted for Elvin Jones. The same thing can be said about Soft Machine in 1971. Original founding member, singer and drummer Robert Wyatt was gone. In for a time to replace him was Phil Howard, a musician with a very different approach to time. We can be thankful that the Howard version of the band was faithfully captured on tape while on tour in Germany that Fall for a full hour of music. This recording of the group in full flower has just been released for the first time on MoonJune Records.

Drop shows vividly what can happen when the chemistry of the group alters. Howard was less concerned with laying down a rock groove and was more of a free-floating, boldly bashing, loose-limbed dynamo. He’s in and out of time on this set, cajoling and catalyzing band members to play with high energy and driving them a bit more over the top than they had been used to with Wyatt. It inspires reedist Elton Dean to blow harder and less introspectively; it gives Mike Ratledge an increased number of rhythmic options in response to the wide wash of accents laid down with drums and cymbals; and it challenges bassist Hugh Hopper to become ever more of a rock-solid anchor (which he was anyway) in the looser dialogue that develops.

This band just doesn’t groove as much, but we have that in abundance with the Wyatt version of the band and, later, with the equally brilliant drumming of John Marshall. But that is OK; there is plenty of all that. Drop gives us a glimpse of what Soft Machine was all about at the time, and what they might have become. It’s a valuable document in the evolution of the band and a very listenable excursion into the higher realms of jamming. Soft Machine aficionados will jump at this one; those new to the band who like a free rock approach will appreciate it as well. It’s a nicely different moment in the band’s relatively long tenure. A good recording can take us back faithfully to a slice in time. This one really does that and we get something to ponder in the deal. Give it your ears and you’ll be rewarded.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Necks' "Hanging Gardens": Play it Again Sam, and Again, and Again

Australia produces its share of music worth hearing. The Necks are one of its more interesting exports in recent times. They are a keys-bass-drums trio that specializes in a kind of jazz-rock minimalism with long trance-like grooves that owe something to the early, more rock oriented minimalist endeavors, like Riley and Cale's Church of Anthrax. Yes, and the classic first phase of electric Miles Davis too.

Their 1999 Hanging Gardens (Fish of Milk 02677) shows all that pretty clearly. It's a one-hour-long cut. It begins with a high-hat tatoo and bass riff that pretty much continue through the piece. Chris Abrahams comes in on Hammond as well as piano, electric piano and various other keys. After a while I realized that the whole project took more than a little something from Miles Davis's In A Silent Way, especially the Hammond work combined with high-hat pulse. The differences are just as dramatic though. Of course there's no ravishing Miles, but really no solos at all. The riff and the drums continue ad infinitum and the level of the music gradually raises through the sound color ambiance of the keys and, sometimes, some counter riffs.

It's looking to develop a trance-through-repetition effect. That's what the Necks do so well. In spite of the fact that an hour is a rather long time to keep up a particular schtick, the Necks' strong suite is they sustain it by various event clusters, an additional variation on the riff, for example, a section where the drums lay out, prepared piano rattle-drones, and so on.

In the end, the Necks create a musical world you can inhabit gladly, provided you do not impatiently await some sort of foreground (soloing). It's a long mesh of background complexities brought forward. But it would fail utterly if it didn't evolve over time in ways that keep one's interest. It does not fail!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Michael Bisio and Collar City Creatology: Dynamic Chamber Jazz

March 3, 2009—The loudness factor in music seems to be ever increasing. The first brass marching bands were hugely loud for their time. They had to fill the open air and often were a kind of representation in sound of the power and might of the military unit to which they were attached. The Mannheim Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of the classical era must have shocked audiences with their ability to crescendo to comparatively dramatic decibel levels. By the time they reached a flat-out, triple fortissimo tutti a few powdered wigs may have been dislodged. Closer to our times the development of more powerful guitar amps led to ever louder rock groups. And now of course most commercial CDs are mastered to deliver maximum volume through super-compression. I’m not complaining though. All this can be very stirring. Of course not all CDs have that super-loud-all-the-time quality. Some aim to carry the full dynamic range of the music being performed. That’s because some musics of course still capitalize on bringing out the dynamic-range possibilities of the material performed.

Nonetheless, jazz and improv can get pretty loud these days. So when a group comes along that plays pretty quietly for much of the time, one takes notice. And when they kick it up a notch, the contrast is that much more effective. Such a group is Collar City Createology, who has recently put out a download-only release on MJB Records, available at cdbaby ( The group is comprised of master bassman Michael Bisio (whose excellent CIMP CD we looked at earlier in the year), guitarist George Muscatello and drummer Dean Sharp. The music is advanced, free and rather quiet most times. There is excellent interplay between the three musicians. Muscatello has a spacey but pure-toned sound, not entirely unlike John Abercrombie but with his own musical vocabulary. He plays some wonderful lines and forms a double melodic tandem with Mr. Bisio that is sensitive and smart, mindful of sound and silence, creative and accomplished. Bisio is a bass player’s bass player, which he shows admirably throughout this disk. And drummer Sharp is a beautiful team member, not stepping on any music toes and making a true contribution with a palpable sensitivity to his aural and rhythmic role in the mix.

Collar City Creatology bases itself in the upper New York State town of Troy, known in the 19th century for its manufacturing of detachable collars. Troy deserves now to be known for producing this group. It’s a wondrously subtle trio. With very nice arrangements and compositions (mostly penned by Michael Bisio), some great improvisational variations and a finely crafted sense of trio sound, Collar City deserves a close listen and will bring increasing rewards and enjoyment as one becomes more and more familiar with the CD. Kudos to this group! May it put Troy back on the map.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sonando Yo. Spirited Son from Sierra Maestra

Sierra Maestra plays in the traditional Son style of Afro-Cuban origins, and they do it quite well. They consist of a strong instrumental grouping of Latin percussion, trumpet, bass plus a Spanish style acoustic alternating or playing in tandem with the tres, a traditional guitar-like instrument with multiple courses of strings that give out a 12-string like sound. A vocal group handles the call-and-response grooves and take turns with the lead vocal.

What's important of course is the quality of the music. Sierra Maestra's CD Sonando Ya (World Village 450011) gives you an excellent set of Son. The songs are strong, the vocals have that lyric yet rhythmic quality, trumpet solos are right where they should be, percussion in the pocket and then there's the tres. Emilio Ramos gives a textbook lesson on how to set up the all-important riffs and his solos really come across as excellent.

This is no musical preservation society music. It breathes, it drives, it is vitally alive. The band floors me. I think you be very pleased with them too!

Monday, June 21, 2010

John Butler Trio: Free and Legal Download

March 2, 2009—We return to some jamband coverage today. I’ve reviewed the John Butler Trio on a couple of studio releases in this blog. has a very generous sampling of their live shows in the “Live Music” section. These are available for streaming or download at no cost. So long as you don’t try to to sell them, they are legal and covered under the Creative Commons umbrella. I chose an earlier show from his listings because I wasn’t as familiar with that period. The March 5, 2002 date has two full CDRs worth of music, recorded off of the soundboard at the Starr Hill Brewing Company in Charlottsville, Virgina.

The sound is quite good and the band is in an expansive mood. Although they may not be considered an officially sanctioned jamband by some, they do a pretty fair amount of improvisational junkets here. The electro-acoustic playing of Butler is worth hearing and the whole band is atuned. The jams are not typical rockouts; there are jazzy and acoustical components and even raga-ish passages that set them apart. The tunes were integral to Butler’s repertoire of the time and he delivers them with conviction. It’s all quite good. It’s free too!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Julie Slick Talks About Her New Album, Her Music & Playing the Bass

Julie Slick is a much-in-demand bassist and stylist of importance in the advanced rock worlds out there. She has been working as a member of Adrian Belew's power trio among other things. Her debut album (Julie Slick) just came out and it's a stunner. We'll be reviewing it in a few days but today I post a most interesting conversation we had via e-mail concerning her music and the making of the album.

GREGO EDWARDS: What brought you to take up the bass guitar? Did you have any model players that inspired you?

JULIE SLICK: My whole family is comprised of musicians and music lovers. My grandfather played trombone in many great jazz bands (including Buddy RIch's and Billie Holiday's) and my dad collects vintage guitars - we have over 30 in our quaint Philly row house. My brother Eric was always a drummer, so growing up, I'd just pick one of his awesome axes up and mess around.... Eventually one day (when I was 11) I picked up his fretless Gibson Ripper and thought to myself "Hmm, I don't have to learn chords, or solo, and I can just hide in the background..." I was a really shy kid, and it was the first time Eric would allow me to jam with him and his friends. My parents also collect vinyl records, so once I started to get serious about playing bass, my Dad would play me the music of some of his favorite bass players - Jack Bruce, Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, Stanley Clarke, John Wetton, Greg Lake... the list goes on...

GREGO: You’ve played with an impressive assortment of alt/prog masters. Was it a matter of one set of associations leading to another or a kind of musical logic based on what you yourself heard in your mind’s eye? Or both?

JULIE: Hmm. . . well, coming up through the School of Rock, I got to meet and play with Ann Wilson, Alice Cooper, Stuart Copeland, Eddie Vedder, Napolean Murphy Brock, and Ike Willis, among others - it was amazing! Two years passed and I was going to Drexel University (for their new Music Industry program), when one day I got a call from Paul Green (the founder of the school) and he asked me "How are your chops? I'd like for you to fly down to Nashville next week and audition to be in Adrian Belew's new power trio." I was stunned - I had been such a HUGE fan of Ade's growing up. I even bought my first serious condenser mic - a Shure KSM32 - because he endorsed it in their ads. Obviously touring with a luminary like him, I got to meet and perform with a lot of incredible artists like Pat Mastelotto, Tony Levin, Robert Fripp, Bela Fleck, Umphree's Magee, Les Claypool... I know - I am unbelievably lucky!

GREGO: Do you keep your chops up with a regular practice routine or is it a matter of just playing as much as you can?

JULIE: I pretty much play every day, from anywhere to ten minutes to several hours. Sometimes I'll practice one of Adrian's songs, or a Zappa riff to keep my chops up, and other times I just improvise. There are days where I don't play at all though, just to remove myself from any routines I'm getting into. I like to think it keeps my ideas fresh. Or I could just be more in the mood to cook that day, haha!

GREGO: Haha! Food is good, to paraphrase the (Young) Frankenstein movie. Your first album is a keeper! Is it a kind of first step, a culmination of where you’ve been and where you are now?

JULIE: Thanks!!! I recorded as I wrote, using Logic and my Roland VB-99 as tools to compose. I'd come up with an idea, track it, and build it up from there. So I suppose it's more of a collection of my influences - bassists, composers, and producers. I wanted to make a cool-sounding album that could be easily digested, not just a self-indulgent frenzy of bass chops. Of course I love progressive music, so obviously the compositions have that quality to them, but I also enjoy electronic and simple pop-rock, so I think one can hear those impressions on my style as well.

GREGO: Your bass sounds great on the tracks. Did you mostly record by miking off your amps or was some of it recorded direct to the console?

JULIE: Actually I have a really awesome old Ampeg B15 - but it was getting repaired when I was making the album, so I just put the bass directly into my Keeley compressor and Sebatron VMP-4000. I had all of these intentions to re-record or re-amp my direct tracks, but I often mix as I record, and the process went pretty quickly, so once the amp was ready, I was pretty much already finished and satisfied with the sounds!

GREGO: How did you come to use such a varied grouping of musicians from piece to piece? Did each combination suggest itself via a sound you were after?

JULIE: Well after writing the first couple of songs, I realized I needed real drums desperately on certain tracks - others I could get away with just using Logic's Ultrabeat. So I wrote to Marco Minnemann, and he sent me his drums for "Many Laughs" overnight. Once I saw how quick and easy the process could be, I started asking some of my favorite players (who have home studios) to see who'd be interested in helping me out. I was in shock when Robert [Fripp] wrote back, allowing me to sample any of his soundscapes. It was a lot of fun to explore that library, and figure out ways to incorporate them into my pieces to provide new textures (and for some, new directions). The first track, "Mela" has the most contributors because it has the most complex arrangement - and it sounded really cheesy with just software samples!

GREGO: It seems that post-prog or whatever one calls it has really blossomed further lately into new and exciting avenues. Of course you are a part of that. Is there something in the air? Is it just a matter of a good time for creative work?

JULIE: Honestly, I was just trying to figure out how to work some of my new pedals (specifically the Roland VB-99). One day in late January, I was getting some cool sounds looping my bass, and playing it as guitar through the '99. I thought it sounded pretty neat, so I set up some mics and next thing I knew, I was starting to compose what would become "Shadow Trip." The process was exciting and new for me - I hadn't written anything in years. I became addicted to it, and we were getting a TON of snow in Philly anyway, so I just stayed inside and worked on it for several hours everyday. I'm still amazed at how quickly it all came together - I had the CDs in my hands by early May!

GREGO: Where do you go from here? What’s coming up for you in the near future?

JULIE: Well, as said, I'm pretty addicted to the process now, so I hope to create another album soon. For the next one, I'd like to work with some vocalists so that it's not totally instrumental, and I think it would be a lot of fun and different for me.I'd also be interested in getting some of the music licensed for use in TV or film. And of course I love touring and performing, so perhaps I'll put some more shows together... I'm already opening for Adrian June 30th (at Mexicali Blues in Teaneck) and July 1st (at World Cafe in Philly).

GREGO: Thanks Julie!

Tuner Weaves Complex and Fascinating Musicscapes

February 26, 2009—We seem to be on a roll. Today’s CD is another gem, continuing an unbroken string of goodies lately.

Tuner’s latest brings a brainy sense of adventure to the progressive genre without slighting the sensual side of things. Muut—Live in Estonia 2007 (Unsung) takes some of the innovations in sound and approach that came out of earlier musics—Miles Davis’s psychedelic period, Terje Rypdal’s large-eared psycho-romanticism, King Crimson’s keen sense of sound texture and sprawl—and synthesizes them to generate something altogether different. Add an all-important, thoroughly developed knack for producing electronically altered orchestral-sized musicscapes and incisive live playing. There are no wasted musical moments.

Tuner is the very musical drummer Pat Mastelotto (a fixture in King Crimson—we met up with him earlier this month on the Live Crimson set) and guitarist, mastermind and producer Markus Reuter (who studied with Robert Fripp and his Guitarcraft learning system). These two musicians generate intensely interesting music that stays with you and does not pander to the infantile expectations that most pop-slop generates in the casual listener. That’s because it is NOT pop-slop. It is genuinely innovative sound forging and one of the best progressive CDs so far this year. The fact that it was recorded live makes it all the more impressive. Keep going, Tuner. You sound great!!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Phil Sargent Brings Good Songcrafting and Musical Guitar Artistry to New Album

With all the influences bouncing about in guitarland these days, we have today a practitioner of the art that doesn't wear his influences on his sleeve. I refer to Phil Sargent. His album, release just this month, drives that point home.

A New Day (Sargent Jazz) puts Mr. Sargent in the company of a readily responsive bass-drums trio context with added keys on two tracks and the quite pleasing wordless vocals of Aubrey Johnson. Songs generally feature Ms. Johnson taking the lead melody and Phil doubling or accompanying her. There are seven Sargent compositions represented and they are lyrical, melodically distinctive and quite attractive. They occupy the interstices between fusion and electric jazz. Phil's playing is quite impressive. He alternates between sub-shred subtleties and melodically oriented fuze-shred. He is an true artist of lyrical yet sometimes forceful lining. He sounds modern without sounding anything more than obliquely influenced by those who have great cache in guitar circles these days (Metheny. Abercrombie. . .).

A New Day gives you a damn fine set. It has joy, it has a quiet intensity and it has very expressive musical content. This is music for those who love well-developed, sophisticated electric jazz. Well worth hearing!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bruce Soord of Pineapple Thief Talks About the Band's New Album and Musical Direction

The band Pineapple Thief has amassed an impressive track record of albums and acclaim over the years. Their new recording Someone Here is Missing (KScope) came out yesterday. It’s a further development in the band’s evolution and should get the attention of a new group of listeners. Gapplegate Music recently had a conversation with band principal Bruce Soord. He spoke rather eloquently on the making of the new album, the direction the band is taking, and the big picture ahead.

GREGO EDWARDS: Did you have any idea ten years ago that you’d be where you are now as a group? You’ve developed an extremely loyal and zealous group of fans. Have they bolstered you all in your determination to keep going, seemingly on the brink of a much wider audience?

BRUCE SOORD: Yeah, I keep trying to rewind my brain to where I was 10 years ago, alone in the spare room of my mid-terraced house with a sampler, crappy synth and a very slow and unreliable PC. I remember a recent blog post where I imagined going back in a time machine and telling myself what I’d be doing in 10 years time (ignoring the paradox of meeting myself of course). I wouldn’t have believed me. So yeah, I’m thankful.

GREGO: Did you have an overriding vision of the music you wanted to make when you first started out? Has it changed? How, if so?

BRUCE: I always wanted to fuse ideas and genres within the rock envelope without making it sound contrived. I think my vision has always stayed the same: the music has to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Whether that is because of a lyric, a beautiful series of notes or a kick arse heavy section it really doesn’t matter. It’s a personal thing to each listener who “gets it.”

GREGO: It seems that your new album Someone Here is Missing keeps the sort of spacey and original sounds you have always featured so effectively and adds a crisper, more compact approach to the song form. Do you think? If so, was that change deliberate or did it just kind of evolve over the years?

BRUCE: It was definitely deliberate. When we took the songs on the road I realized how much I needed to strip the arrangements back so they worked live. A lot of the time I tended to hide my less successful compositions behind layers of sounds and “ear candy” production. Strip it all back and a song should work with just me and my guitar. That was the rule for Someone Here is Missing – it had to work as a song when I “hummed and strummed” it.

GREGO: When you are in the studio do you have a particular sound you aim at for each song or do you experiment until you are happy with the sonic direction? Or both?

BRUCE: I’d say both. Most of the time I go into the studio after mulling over the arrangement with my acoustic guitar for a few days, carefully thinking where I want to travel with it. But often, I’ll end up taking a completely different path by accident and end up with a totally different sonic experience! “Waking Up The Dead” is a prime example. The bass and beat came by accident and the song appeared without very much effort at all.

GREGO: Was it therapeutic and/or symbolic to sum up the first phase of the group on the 3,000 Days anthology album? Did you feel like you were entering a new beginning for the group after that was compiled?

BRUCE: I think it really helped me sculpt a new sound for Someone Here is Missing. After compiling work from seven albums it really hit home that I needed to move on to a serious new territory, away from the layered, gentle melancholia of old TPT. I still love that sound, but I needed to try something new to keep the passion going.

GREGO: In the studio how do you tend to lay down tracks on a song? Is there a kind of standard grouping of live instruments/rough vocals for the first step of a song or does it vary?

BRUCE: I always track some basic drums first to play along to, then lay down guitars and vocals – that’s when I know whether a song is going somewhere great or should be sent to the “crap_bag” folder on my studio PC. Once I have a basic arrangement down I usually leave the studio and run the parts over and over in my head. Sometimes I can try out ideas in my head without the need to be sitting in the studio. It’s good fun but can drive me a little crazy. I can’t even go shopping without my songs.

GREGO: Where do you see Pineapple Thief going in the second decade of its life??!!

BRUCE: For the first time in my career I can see the music really getting out there to a new generation of fans, young and old. That has always been my raison d'ĂȘtre, not to make tons of cash (although that would be nice!) or to be mobbed every time I stepped out my front door, but for as many people as possible to hear the music. It’s frustrating for me to hear fans telling me how they’ve only just discovered us. How many more people like that are out there?

GREGO: By the way, the cover art for your new album is just stunning. How did the idea come about?

BRUCE: It wasn’t my idea – it came from Storm Thorgerson and his studio. When he offered to do our design (which was a great moment for me) he invited me up to his studio to interrogate me on the meaning of my songs. He and his team then sketched a series of ideas while listening to early demos of Someone Here is Missing very loudly. One of the sketches was the “post-it man.” Before I knew it I was on a train to London to be covered with post-its. . .

James Blood Ulmer Gets Root-sy

There is the blues and there is James Blood Ulmer. Do not confuse the two. Mr. Ulmer has been an artist who can go in any number of directions over the years. Funky things, more outside electric excursions, and music that has a rootedness in the blues, but really is James Blood Ulmer music.

Some of this is quite clear in his recent album In and Out (In and Out 77100-2). He plays guitar in his own inimitable way. It is not blues guitar exactly, at least in the sense of the urban blues traditions coming out of the '50s and beyond. The same goes for his vocals and his songwriting. These are songs sometimes drenched in the blues. Like Hendrix before him he flirts with the blues but rarely actually directly launches into the medium per se. Now if you don't care for definitions of what is or isn't in cases like this, I don't blame you. The point is that he should not be pigeonholed because he has his own thing going on.

In and Out gives you several sides of the Ulmer approach. He's working with a trio of himself plus bass and drums and they kick things along nicely. Mark Peterson plays both the electric and the upright in ways conducive to the Ulmer bag; drummer Aubrey Doyle is right there as well.

There are root-boppish numbers, mostly instrumental, a few flights into the stratosphere for his guitar, and rooted, blues inflected rock-funk of a high order. If I once called him a sort of John Lee Hooker for today (in a Cadence review) it was meant in terms of how he can pare down to the elemental core of soulfulness when he chooses, saying-playing more with less.

He does that on this record. And he does it so well, so much in his own way, that perhaps the comparison doesn't seem necessary anymore. James Blood Ulmer is James Blood Ulmer is James Blood Ulmer. And that's a good thing to be. In and Out finds him in excellent form, pared down to fighting trim.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Florian Larousse, Young Classical Guitarist

French guitarist Florian Larousse won the Guitar Foundation of America Competition in 2009. One can hear why on his wide-ranging recital disk (Naxos 8.572565). The program covers a broad spectrum of pieces in the repertoire: a little John Dowland, 19th century composers Giulio Regondi and Napoleon Coste, transitional 20th century figure Antonio Jose and a modernist, one Nuccio D'Angelo.

The first thing that strikes me about Larousse is his beautiful tone. It sparkles. His phrasing is astonishingly fluid, no matter the style at hand, and he shows an interpretive knack that is on a par with the best of the modern classical pianists. That is to say, his rubato is unexaggerated, his tonal nuance subtle and varied according to the needs of the composition.

Jose's Sonata (1933) showcases Larousse's finessive flair in a wonderful way. The sonata's traditional Spanish guitar passagework segues smoothly back and forth in alternation with the more contemporary sounding motifs. He makes of it all an organic unity that breathes life into the music and lets you fully appreciate the beauty of the sonata.

Mr. Larousse does not choose to wear his technique on his sleeve. All that is subjoined to what is important: the composition at hand and the most expressively subtle realization of the notes as the composer conceived of them.

Larousse's considerable talent and a selection of lesser performed gems from the repertoire make for excellent listening. It is a most successful and attractive outing!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Univers Zero Returns to the Studio After A 14 Year Hiatus

The band Univers Zero made their last studio album in 1986. We are fortunate that they've been back to the grind, putting out a new and fascinating album they call Clivages (Cuneiform 295). Like the return of Ulysseys, we rejoice first, then worry later about the adventure they no doubt have been on. I'm sure that is an epic story in itself. We welcome the wandering heroes with our ears open. And our reward is great.

Universe Zero makes a kind of post-Zappa mix of modern classical and rock. They do it so well that the stitches are not showing. Listening, you forget to care what is what and just revel in the fine musical flow. Clivages weaves together the two styles in ways that give the new hybrid a feeling of organic inevitability. It's how the music is arranged, which is quite skillfully, and the pieces themselves, which are inspired. There are interesting ostinatos, a rock pulse, various contrapuntal intricacies and shifting meters for a sort of rock-classical chamber effect. Band members take turns with the composing. It all has such clear vision and fine-tuned execution that you feel like they all have internalized the sort of music they want to do, and then have gone ahead and done it. And done it extraordinarily well. If Univers Zero hadn't come up with this album, we would all be the poorer. That's how much I think of it. It is simply superb!

After Frank Zappa, Universe Zero produces the very best rock-classical music out there. Thank you Belgium for giving us so much wonderful music over the centuries! Please, Univers Zero, don't let so much time go by this time. Get right back in the studio. We want more!

Highly recommended.

Friday, June 11, 2010

An Obscure But Good New Lost City Ramblers Album

February 23, 2009—As I greet the morning sun and another day, I am accompanied by the sounds of a music not often covered on these pages, but no less appreciated for that.

Sometime between the 1700s and the 20th century a new music sprung out of the hills and dales of Appalachia as well as far and wide in the surrounding area. It was born of a life adapted to this land and the mixture of styles that various immigrants carried with them when they arrived, not to mention sheer musical imagination. I refer to country (and western). The old ballads, string-band songs and early bluegrass gave the US one of its truly original musical identities. (And of course country music thrives today, with or without rootedness in the original styles, depending on the performer.)

The folk revival of the '50s and '60s covered some of this music, and of course there were plenty of local players who kept the tradition alive in itself. Somehow those two strains found their perfect synthesis in a band known as The New Lost City Ramblers. This was a superb group both vocally and instrumentally, in no small part thanks to the talents of Mike Seeger, but everyone involved did a great job with finessing and directly communicating what was (and is) so wonderful about this music. There’s the deceptively plain, unique sound of the vocals and that special twang that many singers today have lost. There’s the wonderful fiddling, and the special picking of guitars, banjos, and mandolins.

The New Lost City Ramblers made a number of albums for Folkways in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s, then broke up. Folkways-Smithsonian has made them all available again and they are highly recommended (there's also a box set. . . ). I’m listening now to one I never had in my vinyl days, Gone to the Country (Folkways 02491). It covers songs not found much if at all on other modern recordings and those songs often have that outrageous nonsense humor and all-knowing naivety spawned from everyday local life. It’s the superb delivery of the songs though that makes this group special. These guys blew the folk revivalists into the dust. The music was and is breathtakingly alive in their hands. Thanks to Folkways you can download or buy their records online at decent prices. Use your favorite search engine and type in Smithsonian Folkways and check them out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hector Martignon's "Second Chance": For Some Smart Latin Jazz

Hector Martignon plays some really fine Latin jazz piano, writes very interesting music and arranges it and some choice covers skillfully for a mid-sized group on his new album Second Chance (Zoho 201006).

Martignon's pianism is quite in evidence on this disk. He has both rhythmic drive and harmonic-melodic sophistication. His band here is excellent. Ludwig Afonso stands out as a drummer steeped in the Latin and the jazz side of the equation. Reedman Xavier Perez and trumpet-fluegelist John Walsh add nice solo work. Bassists Armando Gola and Edward Perez both have that post-Jaco line-weaving strength (though there is also some steaming upright on "Alone Together;" I'm not sure who is playing when) that spices the proceedings considerably. And then the guest spot by Edmar Castaneda on harp (for "Coqueteos") can only be classified as brilliant! Traditional South American (Colombian) harp combines in his solo with a jazz context and it's quite impressive. I would love to hear more of him.

But this is Hector Martignon's outing and he shines brightly, while showing us the flexibility of his musical leanings. There is samba and other Latin feels mixed with nicely turned fusion elements and well constructed compositional lines. Listen to their version of Mancini's "Hatari" and Hector's piano solo on it to find a congenial first entrance into this fine set. Mr. Martignon gives us some very good music on Second Chance. It is music to live with, happily.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Trey Gunn's "Modulator" Breaks Ground in Advanced Electric Music

As was discussed in our interview with Trey Gunn several days ago (see below), Modulator (7d Media 1011) was created in novel circumstances. Marco Minnemann recorded a 50-minute drum solo with his own rhythmic muse guiding him. It's free ranging and very exciting drumming. He challenged multi-instrumentalist, touch guitarist and musical composer-conceptualist Trey Gunn to create a musical work based on the solo, using only Gunn's quite fertile imagination and the flow of drumming from the original track.

Trey responded with some of the most ambitious, interesting and satisfying music I've ever heard in the post-prog mode. Using guitars, touch guitars, bass guitars, keys and samples, he painstakingly built up a piece of orchestral dimensions. The stream of consciousness aspect of the drumming helped lead to a work that traverses an enormous amount of territory: rocking passages, incredibly complex rhythmic-melodic segments of rare beauty and interludes of reflective charm. It's not easily described because it has so much going on musically.

This is the kind of complex yet directly accessible music you could listen to for years and still get more out of each time. Every listen for me hits my ears in a different way than before; I hear more connections and underlying pattern and so enjoy an ever more rewarding listening experience. I would have to say that this one is a masterpiece of sonic sprawl. And there is some incredible guitar work, too. It's just fabulous!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A New One From Carlos Barretto Lokomotiv

The Carlos Barretto Lokomotiv is a modern-day Portuguese equivalent of the old Gateway Trio, meaning that the music is ambient, electric, freely played, with a rock component and plenty of improvising. Their new album Labirintos (Clean Feed 179) showcases their music with recorded brilliance and it engages from beginning to end. The compositional vehicles are solid and interesting, all penned by Mr. Barretto, with the exception of one collective improvisation. They help create the mood and tone of the set, which is forward moving and gutsy or, alternately, more reflective and seeking a sheer sensuality of tone.

Carlos plays a very nimble and tasteful acoustic bass and heads the outfit. He is one that can bow with grace and good tone and his pizzicato solos are right on the money. Mario Delgado plays in a modern sounding electric guitar style, with good use of space and the ability to make musical statements that bear up under continual listening. He can rock or string together a solo of a freer-er sort without recourse to cliches. Drummer Jose Salgueiro swings, rocks and freetimes his way through the set with sophistication as well as push.

Here is yet another example of a very good group on the Portuguese scene. Thanks in great part to Clean Feed, we get a gradually unfolding picture of a musical center, not in any way a backwater, but rather a home for a vital group of improvisers. And Lokomotiv is right up there with the best of them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ernie Krivda Group in New York

February 20, 2009—Tenor saxist Ernie Krivda has been on the scene for years. If he has not gotten a huge amount of recognition for his talents, it is not for want of consistent excellence in performance. He can be counted on to come through with energized, full-throated improvisations seemingly whenever the opportunity presents itself. His recent Cadence release Live in New York City (Cadence Jazz 1195) is a case in point. Captured by band guitarist Bob Fraser one January night at Sweet Rhythms in NYC, Krivda and company turn in one of those performances where they do not so much think of the recording in progress and let loose with unselfconscious mainstream jazz with hell-for-leather intensity.

The quintet is primed and the audience urges them forward in a really nice set of originals. Trumpeter Dominick Farinacci and aforementioned guitarist Fraser contribute first-rate solos, and Krivda insistently brings out his exuberant, extroverted note-streaming at its best. He has the hard lyricism of a Coltrane, but his own sound and musical vocabulary. This is a band on one of those nights where it all comes together. You’ll wish you had been there. Check the Cadence site ( for more information.

Friday, June 4, 2010

King Crimson Live on a Good Night, 1996

February 19, 2009—King Crimson has been a band that, during its active periods, never stands still. The music is always developing, while the personnel configurations give a particular character to the music at any given time. Fripp seems to find musicians that can contribute solidly and change the sound of the band from lineup to lineup. One of the more impressive configurations was the double trio: Fripp and Belew on guitars, Trey Gunn on touch guitar (see a recent entry on these pages for an interview with Trey and what he is up to now), Tony Levin on bass and stick, and drummer/percussionists Bill Bruford and Pat Mastelotto. That very group is wonderfully represented on a 2-CD reissue of a London concert in 1996, The Collected King Crimson, Volume Three: Live at the Shepherds Bush Empire (DGM). This is no stock run through of greatest hits. There’s an opening soundscape by Fripp, some great drum routines and a cross-spectrum of their repertoire, digging back as far as “21st Century Schizoid Man” through to the Talking Heads-like “Elephant Talk.”

There’s plenty of music and the band is in top form. This wasn’t a group that featured hours of guitar solos. The experimentation tends to be collective and the expansion of their recorded versions takes place in terms of drive and a modification of the arrangements. The set has great sound and reminds us all of what we missed back then if we didn’t go see them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bassist John Hebert and his Trio Combine Acoustic and Electric Soundworlds

John Hebert seems to be the double bassist of choice on more and more projects in the modern jazz field lately. His new trio CD Spiritual Lover (Clean Feed) gives you some reasons why as it also shows a strong group conception in the fee-er yet tonally rooted zone. Pianist Benoit Delbecq shares the pre-arranged melodic roles with Hebert and also does some very nice exploratory, loosely horizontal soloing. Listen to him on "Le Reve Eveille," a lovely sort of modern ballad with some beautiful piano and bass improvisations. Benoit adds clavinet and synthesizer to the piano work, sometimes in combination to give the trio a more broadly expansive sound, sometimes to rock out a little in a free way.

Drummer Gerald Cleaver sounds terrific on this one, whether he's adding delicate Asian sounding percussive flourishes, using his brushes sensuously or madly swinging, freely accenting or bursting forward on some of the free-rock numbers. And John Hebert gets a beautiful sound, which is often tied to the ensemble context of the songs in a way that gives the music a fullness and drive that only a master of the art can manage. All in all, though, it is the compositions-concepts that distinguish this one as fully of our time, thoughtful but also forcefully climactic at the right moments.

This is a record that covers a good expanse of stylistic territory yet manages to sound distinctive and cohesive at all points. It combines the acoustic and the electric in a kind of organic unity. Good music is the aim, and that's what you get. I'll bet this band can be exciting to hear live. They are on this CD anyway!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Impressive German Electricity from the Season Standard

February 17, 2009—In my earlier days I came across an idea by I forget who. The tempo of a music, the thought goes, increases parallel to the amount of social upheaval present in the surrounding society. For the world we inhabit there are times of that sort. And today’s CD is packed with music of a rapid density, for the most part. Now I don’t think such an idea can be proven and there may be nothing to it ultimately, but the debut album of the German group The Season Standard (Squeeze Me Ahead of Line [Unsung]) speeds up the passing musical landscape to a captivating, exhilarating blur at times.

We’re talking about a progressive rock quartet: guitar/guitar-keys/bass/drums with vocals. The drummer Simon Beyer is a remarkable anchor and fire branding energizer for the group sound. He plays a very busy, sometimes asymmetrical and always driving brand of funk-rock rhythm that sets up the band’s pieces irresistibly. The music is complex and at the forefront of what can be done with what has been. Think of the funky elements of Yes, Beefheart, Zep and what followed only intensify it in a boiling, bubbling cauldron of notedness, like Mars Volta hooked up to a sophisticated music machine. There’s a lot of music contained in any given minute of this disk and it is nothing throwaway. It’s very good and very interesting. It rarely stops to look around. It’s going somewhere relentlessly, excitingly.

Mathias Jahnig has a good sense of his instrument (guitar) and the others are similarly situated. Mathias’ vocals have kind of a half-speed anchorage in the swirling musical pattern and give the band a second pivoting point (with the drums the first) in this multi-centered music. It’s fascinating. It’s great. I am impressed and want to hear more.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The National: An Album of the Era

The National? I don't know how many albums they have out but their new one, High Violet just slays me. Where to start? The singer, one Berninger, has a baritone voice that has a familiar ring in its tone, Bowie, later Iggy Pop. It's direct and a little laid-back, which contrasts nicely with the lyrics, which are haunted, alienated, lost.

The songs have an alt-indie excellence that doesn't come along very often. It's a dark mood The National are in, and musically the support to the melodies is quite interesting. The songs just pop out at you in the best sort of way.

My wife is a kind of barometer for a kind of "people's" ear. When she notices what I play. even though our space is bombarded hour-after-hour with a constant deluge, I know that there is an appeal there that might be common to any hip listener. The fact that she was out in the yard (OK, I was playing this one loud) and came in and asked, "what is that?"....That says something. This is a completely irresistable record. I wont say it's a classic. It just came out, right? Well it does make me want to hear their other records. That means it tops my ear chart. You think you like? You get.