Friday, July 30, 2010

Tom Rainey with Mary Halvorson, Ingrid Laubrock

Tom Rainey's trio opus Pool School (Clean Feed 185) puts a different spin on small group free improvisation. Mr. Rainey's drums, Ms. Halvorson's electric guitar and Ms. Laubrock's tenor and soprano leave plenty of space for each other. The density of the music is not especially low but it is accommodating. Each voice operates within a space that does not overlap with the others so much as simultaneously creates complementary sound events.

It's not a blow-out, in other words, but it also is not a quasi-new music pointilistic hot potato game.

What that means is you get something of the unexpected. Rainey's drums are considered, not torrential. Mary Halvorson plays lines and chords that sound like they've been chosen with some attention to the total matrix. And Ingrid Laubrook does not solo so much as she bon mots in dialogical conversation shared by the three.

This is pretty subtle and totally engaging music. I like how everyone's roles mesh. It gives you some idea why Mary Halvorson's guitar work has been the subject of some attention. All three players, however, are making equally important contributions. It may take a few listens to absorb the totality of soundings and the thrust of the approach, but one's efforts are rewarded by immersion in a rather rarely encountered world of free improvisation that eschews showmanship for sustained sonic adventure.

That's a nice thing. Put this one on and go someplace away from your "here."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Trad Indonesian and Fusion Make Powerful Alliance on Tohpati's "Save The Planet"

The gamelan traditions of Indonesia are a source of some of the most amazing music the world has ever had the good fortune to experience. Indonesian electric guitar virtuoso Tohpati has imbibed that tradition as part of his upbringing and now he and his band present some extraordinary fusion music that puts that tradition in juxtaposition with the virtuoso style of electric jazz that has flourished off and on since the early '70s.

I wont say that the combination was inevitable. It took a musician with talent, familiarity and technical-musical largess to pull it off. That person is Tohpati. (One must also not forget a related band, simak DIALOG, whose excellent music I have reviewed on these pages and in Cadence.)

He plays a guitar style that has much in the way of notes but also a structural sense of melody and rhythm that brings a sense of rightness to all he does. This also applies on the whole to his complex and moving compositions.

Before we get much further, I should tell you that his first album, specifically Tohpati Ethnomission's Save the Planet (Moonjune 035), has just come out and any discussions to follow are based on that set of music.

So you have a excellent guitarist and his fusion-Indonesian pieces. Now for the band. It is a kickingly coherent assemblage of local musicians. Perhaps the most kicking and coherent part of that is the rhythm team. Idro Hardjodikoro plays a driving yet melodically sophisticated electric bass and forms an important part of the ensemble passages throughout. He also takes some hair-raising solos. Endang Ramdan plays excellent percussion in the Indonesian tradition and Demas Narawangsa combines the conventional trap set with Indonesian percussion. These two get a very driving rock-meets-gamelan groove happening that can not be resisted. Finally there Diki Suwarjiki, who sweetens the blend with a beautifully played traditional Suling flute and also constructs electro-acoustical soundscapes.

Save the Planet is one of the most innovative, interesting and moving fusion offerings I've heard in a long time.The combination of kicking percussion-drums, sophisticated Indonesian infused composition and Tohpati's most accomplished and distinctive guitar wielding make you want to hear the album many times in succession. It's a great example of why bringing your own roots into your music can be a great thing. Indonesian music is enriched in the process. And fusion too! Try not to miss this one.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Samba Jazz from Antonio Adolfo

For me at least, samba jazz as played by a very good piano trio (plus important additions, in today's case) can lift the mood and bring an irresistible groove into your life. That's so with La e Ca (Here and There) (AAM 0701) by Brazilian pianist, songwriter, arranger Antonio Adolfo. The basic piano trio is joined by Carol Saboya on about half the cuts, a vocalist that starts with the delicately pensive stylings of an Astrud Gilberto and brings in some phrasial finesse and jazz punch. There's also nice guitar work from Leo Amuedo, the occasional trombone of Sergio Trombone, in addition to the core members Rafael Barata on drums and Jorge Helder on double bass.

Antonio Adolfo plays a very engagingly subtle jazz samba piano style and the sophisticated samba rhythms are quite adeptly handled by the rhythm team. There are three Adolfo originals on this set and I wish there were more. They are very good. Then there are some Jobim chestnuts and jazz-songbook standards like "All the Things You Are," "Time After Time" and such. They are all given a bossa-samba treatment.

It's some strong music and very entertaining at that. The arrangements sparkle, Adolfo's piano is perfectly ravishing and Carol Saboya can SING. Now if they'd do an all-originals set, I'd be quite thrilled. As it is I am happy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guitarist George Cotsirilos Steps Forward with "Past Present"

Frisco Bay area mainstreamer George Cotsirilos has the ability to sustain an hour-long set of the improvisatory arts with elan and imagination. His second trio date Past Present (OA2 22062) gives you a full earful of the Cotsirilos style, which is old-school jazz mainstream without sounding derivative.

His line building imagination, chording sophistication and phrasing subtleties come at you full force on this fine disk. Three standards and seven originals put an excellent spin on his wide-ranging talent. The backing duo of Robb Fisher on bass (with a full bodied tone and nice note choices) and drummer Ron Marabuto (with a good touch and very sympathetic accompanying abilities) gives him the best sort of support.

It's old-school guitar jazz dressed in its best finery. It's music that sustains a tradition by building upon it rather than reproducing it verbatim.

Very much recommended.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Postonove 3 Brings a Diverse Collection of Brazilian Music to Your Ears

Today we look at a CD that was released in 2004 and found its way to me only recently.

It's volume three of a collection of Brazilian pop that is likely to be heard at the Paris nightspot Favela Chic, Postonove 3 (Milan 36042). Now I don't get to Paris, so chances are I wont be experiencing the ambiance of the club scene. Apparently, though, Favela Chic is known for spinning platters from diverse epochs and stylistic pockets of Brazilian music. This volume three covers in some depth the samba Brazilian groove of the 70's as well as Brazilian hip hop samba of later times.

There are great examples of batucada and carnival-school inspired music, which I love dearly. As far as the rest of it goes, the music goes from a Brazilian soul version of "Sunny" (which I don't suppose is essential) to other interesting and less-interesting combinations of musics. When this anthology is good, it is delightful. When it involves certain hybrids there are times I am less enthralled. But I don't live this music or the club scene that puts the music in a wider party context.

Interesting, anyway.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Johnny Arrow Rechannels Late '60s-Early '70s Soul Jazz

Today we have one of those recordings where, "if you like x then you'll like y." I try to put that out front sometimes because readers have a diversity of tastes. Not everybody embraces all the styles covered in my blogs. Sometimes even I don't!

That is said in no way to diminish the music for this Friday. It's by a fellow named Cochemea Gastelum (aka Johnny Arrow, it appears). He plays an electrified alto in ways that show the influence of Eddie Harris. Now that's cool, because he does fine at it. He was in the original band for the Broadway hit Fela! and he brings Afrobeat sensibilities to his music.

His album The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow (MOWO 3210), just released Tuesday, gives a kind of Afrobeat-Latin update on those classic Atlantic soul jazz recordings of the late '60s-early '70s, where the Muscle Shoal and other Atlantic session regulars got to play some hip charts and an instrumentalist of note fronted the whole deal. Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann in a particular mode, and a score of others put out a bunch of these sorts of records, which I mostly used to discount. I've found there's more there than I previously suspected. Sure, it's geared to a particular listener base (and what isn't?), but it boils the kettle at the right temperature.

So The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow is a bit of an updating, a making new of that basic concept.

It has some interesting arrangement and it can go from a soul ballad ("Stars") to quasi-Afrobeat horn funk ("Dark City"). It's the sort of thing that engages in a good deal of retro rechanneling, but it does so with musicianship and some bright moments.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Elliott Sharp: Solo Electric Guitar, Played His Way

Elliott Sharp, guitar pioneer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, has always seemed to go his own way, in the process becoming a major presence in the now globally recognized downtown music enclave. He's successfully created Sharpesque interpretations of the blues, composed and performed exciting works for both small and large ensembles, hosted a web radio show of great diversity and discernment for MOMA's PS1 web site, among other things. He's also recorded a series of improvisations for solo guitar.

Octal Book Two (Clean Feed CFG 004) finds Mr. Sharp on his Koll 8-string electro-acoustic guitar, which has both conventional and bass guitar strings. Without overdubs he creates a kind of suite of guitar events, each concentrating on various avant and conventional techniques that Sharp uses. Some he has developed in his own way; others, like harmonics, feedback sustain, and hammerings, he adapts to his own purposes.

What distinguishes Sharp's music from some other unaccompanied solo avant guitar efforts is that each event to a lesser or greater degree concentrates on a melodic cell, scalular passage or quasi-riff. The music is freely articulated but not free in the stream-of consciousness manner. It is Elliott's strong sense of structure that gives the listener clear musical sign-posts through the avant sound thicket (at least that is so for me). Each is a semi-miniature impro-compositional gem. He does not eschew repetition, and much of the music features dynamically invigorating cascades of rapidly articulated repeated lines. This of course is a feature of Elliott Sharp's style and it is paired down to a single solo voice for this outing.

It shows that Elliott Sharp's motor-sensory brilliance has in no sense abated. He is vital still.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's New One

Jacob Fred's Jazz Odyssey quartet has been around. They've notched a fair number of releases. Leader-pianist Brian Haas and steel guitarist Chris Combs make this a distinctive unit. But playing what? On the latest, Staying Gold (Royal Potato Family), there is some interesting and quite memorably melodic instrumental music. It is well constructed. It is musical. But is it jazz? No, but it is one of their best efforts.

The question is whether anyone should care. My gut instinct tells me this is not jazz per se. Jazz-rock tinged instrumental, yes. Do you care? Should you? I think probably not This is arranged music and it is distinctive music. It is not big on improvisation. Live, one never knows what's coming next. Stay Gold though is a unified musical package. I find this a very enjoyable listen. If you file it under "whatever," it will fit in there just fine and be one of the more important additions to your "whatever" holdings. That I think is a safe bet.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mayte Martin for The New Flamenco

As a kid I had a book about world airline travel as it was in the late '40s-early '50s. "Breakfast in New York," it proclaimed excitedly, "dinner in Paris!" I was astounded. Today we can have breakfast in New York and be virtually anywhere at the same time, through the internet or vastly improved telecommunications networks. Or by listening to a CD.

Like this one today. Songwriter, singer, guitarist Mayte Martin could be sounding from your system right now, wherever you are. In fact she is sounding her music in my office as I write this. Her CD Al Cantar A Manuel (World Village 468087), that is. It's a collection of movingly wrought songs in an extended flamenco style, based on the texts of poems by Manuel Alcantara.

It is something to hear. Mayte's voice has that dramatic projecting of traditional flamenco, but the song forms are more involved in their structure. The nylon-stringed Spanish guitars of Ms. Martin and Jose Luis Monton are ever-present, lovely, subtle, sonorous. Then there are further instrumental accompaniments by violin, doublebass and sometimes percussion. It's very well put-together.

Here we have music that is as astounding in its own way as that book of the wonders of air travel I read through endlessly as a kid. Only it's palpable, fully here to enjoy many times over.

What can one say? Martin's voice is superb, the songs quite memorable, the accompaniments lovely. It's a record I will come back to many times, I am sure.

Now this is the sort of music to make me proud of being a citizen of the world. If some alien race came down from the sky right now and wanted to know what the hell that noise was coming from the box on my desk, I'd be happy to explain that it was one of the activities that make humans special. Would they get it? I think they might, if they listened a little.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Liliana Barrios: Tangos by the Exposito Brothers

Music has that rare ability to cross borders, cultures, and time to communicate with all (music lovers), if they are open to exploring the sounds they hear. Such was what happened to me with Liliana Barrios's Epica (World Village 498036). This is an album dedicated to, and centered around, the works of the Exposito Brothers, South American masters of the art.

Now I grew up with a view of the tango heavily colored by old movies, American popular culture and Montovani. (For those who ask, "Montovani who?" he was a purveyor of sweetly sickening, string-dense mood music in the '40s and especially the '50s.) He had at least one tango album. This is the cliche sort of tango one heard back then, and bears as much relation to the musical lifeways of real Argentinian tango as the Firehouse Five did to Jelly Roll Morton.

Liliana gives us the real tango, plus a little milongo, candombe, bolero and pop styles associated with the Exposito Brothers, especially in the '40s and '50s. This is a great vehicle for the emotive, appealingly husky voice of Ms. Barrios, with accordion, strings and piano giving nicely executed period backing (and for the other genres, sometimes other instruments too, like lively drumming and upright bass for the candombe "Azabache.") In the end the songs and Liliana's fine voice triumph in Epica. If you could own only one album of tango, you would be best to skip Montovani and get this one. It is quite movingly supercharged with Ms. Barrios's artistry. And it rings true.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Max Wild's Tamba: Afrobeat Meets Fusion and They Get Along Swimmingly

Alto saxist Max Wild grew up in Zimbabwe. He absorbed the sounds of the musical world teeming around him. Now he gives some of that back on Tamba (Obliqsound 108). He is joined by a host of African musicians and singers for this attractive outing, most notably the late Sam Mtukudzi on guitars and vocals.

The large segment of music that combines Afrobeat, traditional elements and fusion is the most intriguing. The ensembles, beats and vocals shine and Max Wild plays a very decent, soulful alto. The more strictly fusion cuts are all attractive but not quite as distinctive.

It's one of those amalgams that are not only intriguing on paper. The music comes across as committed and very very lively. It's hip and really moves! Check this one.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Eccentric Soul: Trager and Note Label Rarities

By the late-‘60s-early-‘70s classic soul/r&b was in the process of evolving further away from its blues drenched, down-home directness to slicker, more processed music that was to form an uneasy co-existence with disco several years later. Motown and its smoother version of black pop had made its inroads. Otis had met his untimely end, Wilson Pickett was less active, Aretha still had it but was less in the charts, Joe Tex was fading.

Into this scene came two small regional labels, Trager and Note, mostly out of Atlanta, and they produced a run of singles, mostly unsuccessful, that at their best capture the raw excitement of the slightly earlier days, and at their worst aped the slick product of their more successful competition. Nb Records has come out with Eccentric Soul: Trager and Note a generous 2-CD compilation of the music these two labels released (or didn’t, in some cases) and it is a fascinating document. When the music is good, it’s very good; when it misses it sounds dated and overly mannered. The package, warts and all, gives you another view of the scene, from the bottom of the stack of singles, so to speak. It’s a fun listen and has some great moments. If you like that period this collection will have definite charms for you.

Originally posted by Grego on March 9 of last year at

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Band Called Future of the Left

I naturally do not know the future of anything much at this time. So if a band calls itself Future of the Left, I cover them if the music is worth talking about. Their lyrics tend towards the punk/in your face sort of thing, which means in this case however they feel about the left, right, or anything else is not entirely clear. No matter, really. The fact is they are making an ambiguous statement in the manner of prosaic-poetic lyric-meistering. That's totally cool.

And the music is what we are about here. So Travels with Myself and Another (4AD 2913), released a year ago, gives Future of the Left a decent showcase and we have a few listens. The lead vocalist is punkoid. The music in the alt indie corner and it has some metallic edginess to it much of the time. The music is musical. There are some interesting riffs, some definite song forms and the ensemble is good. There are a few odd meters. Cuts are pretty short.

I'd say this should appeal to those looking for some music with hair on it. What it stands for I am not sure, but it doesn't sound like they are pro-Nazi or anything like that. It's excellent hard indie. You like that, maybe you should get.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Greeley Estates: No Rain, No Rainbow

Death metal, thrashmetal, grindcore, speed metal, it's all been around for 20 years or so and the newer bands can be more sophisticated (if that's the right word?) than their forebears.

Greeley Estates and I believe the latest album (from this year), No Rain, No Rainbow (Tragic Hero 90059) give you the exorcist vocals, true, and the low-tuned guitars playing doomsday motifs, the drums wildly double-bassing, and they do that completely in the idiom. But there are other elements creeping in, other musical elements and some pretty complicated instrumental elements.

This is no easy music to play. Whether you like it depends I suppose on a predisposition to appreciate the onslaught of energy and noise-ish sound the music consistently provides. This is definitely one of the better bands doing this kind of thing right now. They are musical about it all. That's what counts.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mark O'Leary: Avant Fusion, Live in Istanbul

When it comes to commercial downloads you often get almost no information. Such was the case when I went on to Amazon and found a download of electric guitarist Mark O'Leary's album Live in Istanbul (TIB Productions, no # given). If I didn't already know about Mark I doubt I would have even looked at the entry. There was a cover shot, a list of the songs, a list of four musicians, obviously Mr. O'Leary and then three Turkish players. That's it. It was $3.96 so I went for it. If I didn't know that I liked Mark's playing I would not have plunked down the money. Can't beat the price though.

This is spacey ECM fusionoid music, a bit more left-field than ECM's sometimes almost new age-y releases, which is fine with me. Someone is playing trumpet, someone drums and the third person? Sounds like electric bass but it's rather low in the mix. Then again there are electronically enhanced sounds so maybe it's a key-based player? There are times when Mark has a sound that's a little bit Abercrombie-like, other times Terje Rypdal-like. Either way it's a slightly different sort of playing than on the two flat-out-out duets on Ayler with Bennink and Sunny Murray, respectively, which have been favorably reviewed in previous posts on this blog. He is not in an imitation mode, he's just a bit more soundscape-oriented here. And there's more AIR in the music.

This is music not without interest. The trumpet player and the drummer make for good company. The bass/electronics player does OK, what you can hear. There are bunches of other releases by Mark, and all I know otherwise are the two Aylers, so I cannot compare. In the end it's a pretty attractive set and shows another side of O'Leary. He is inventive and these folks are in an exploratory mood. Free fusion? I suppose that's what you could call it. Well worth four bucks!

Friday, July 9, 2010

McCoy Tyner and Various Guitarists Shine Forth

McCoy Tyner has had a great influence in the music world since he entered it in the late ‘50s. Of all the pianists of his generation, he belongs to the select few monster stylists out there. Most people reading this will know that.

He hasn’t played much with guitarists, for whatever reason. Until now. His aptly titled CD Guitars (Half Note) finds him in company with five different stringmen, plus a formidable rhythm section of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette. Much of the material is familiar, but that’s not the point. What happens with each segment belongs to the good chemistry law: if two musicians listen carefully and respect each other’s way of going about his business, nice things can happen. And that’s the case with these sessions.

Marc Ribot gets four numbers and he is alternatingly out and in the groove with playing that has distinct rock overtones at times. John Scofeld and Bill Frisell each show why they are at the top. Then there’s Bela Fleck on banjo, a wizard that comes off quite well in his sequence. He’s amazing! Finally jamband hero Derek Trucks gets his turn, and if you already know about him, you’ll find him into his thing and acquitting himself admirably. If you are new to him, it gives you a chance to evaluate where he is coming from and how that mixes with Mr. Tyner’s way of dealing. McCoy took a chance playing with four such disparate players. It was worth it.

Originally posted by Grego on March 6th of last year at

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Giulio Tampalini Presents Postmod Contemporary Classical Works

Giulio Tampalini plays the classical guitar with great spirit. He phrases like he wrote the music. There's a sure, very flowing lyrical singing to his phrases. We took a look at his first two volumes of the complete Tarrega solo guitar music April 16th at our sister site Today we have a new one, Strong Emotions on Classical Guitar (Concerto 2055).

As you have perhaps gathered this is contemporary music for solo classical guitar. Tampalini has selected a rather memorable program of short pieces written by composers mostly working in the new tonal idiom. There are some beautiful pieces. Ralph Towner gets the nod on a couple. There are many names new to me. Others, not. What is important is the uniformly high level of melodic lyricism represented in these miniatures and the breathtaking artistry with which they are performed.

It's music that delights. It's music that anybody with a set of ears will love. It's an object lesson on how to make the classical guitar sing like an angel.

This is music you could live with for many years and still feel refreshed when listening for the 500th time, I imagine. It's the sort of guitar music that some prog rockers have tried to create and sometimes failed in the attempt. This is the real thing. Tampalini is wondrous!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cargo Cult and Their "Lonely House (Covers)" Release

When I think of classic chamber jazz, John Kirby, the MJQ, Giuffre's drumless trios, Duke Ellington with Billy Strayhorn and Oscar Pettiford, the Red Norvo Trios, especially the one with Mingus and Farlow. . .these groups spring immediately to mind. If I were to say that Cargo Cult probably belongs to this, my personal inner sanctum of what I consider the very best in this genre, some grouchbag will probably accuse me of hype. But guess what? Hype is only hype if you do not truly believe what you say. And that isn't true with me. These blogs reflect what I like (and sometimes what I don't like so much). There is nothing to be gained by my liking something. Of course it also follows that there's nothing to be gained by my panning something in a kind of Caesarian hissy fit. But of course that authoritative disdain can instill a sense of self-worth where it might be otherwise lacking, and may also appeal to those who would wish to dictate arrogantly what we are permitted to listen to and like. So I try not to do that a lot.

After having heard (and reviewed, here and elsewhere) virtually all of Cargo Cult's releases so far, I am a true believer. This new one, Lonely House (Covers) (CIMP 380) confirms what I've already suspected. That these three musicians have a rather amazing versatility and a thorough grasp of a myriad of styles and moods. We've heard Cargo Cult get outside, shred a little, swing, and now they do everything else you can think of. And they do it their own way.

Radio stations may think they shape tastes. And of course they do in their way. But in the end the most important developments are initiated outside the realm of radio. Trane, Ornette, Ayler built a ground swell for a new style of music without much in the way of radio play, especially at first.

And so Cargo Cult and this album attempt (I think successfully) to redefine what makes a standard standard today. Quick answer: they do not play all the usual done-to-death songs. And they aren't afraid to look outside of the ashpit ruins of Tin Pan Alley to find material that is just as worthwhile. Most importantly, they do the material in their very own way.

Who is Cargo Cult? It's Tomas Ulrich on cello, Rolf Sturm of guitar and Michael Bisio on the acoustic bass. They are a group in the best sense, each harnessing their palpably high-art talents to the interest of the group sound, the refreshingly conceived arrangement.

So to the music. They pick out some of the most ravishing of standard standards and work magic with them. Monk's "Let's Cool One," Porter's "Night and Day," Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses," Weill's "September Song" and "Lonely House," and invest them with a great deal of affection and respect. But then there are the more surprising selections too, like Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen" with Ulrich playing slide cello while Sturm plays some neat banjo. Then there is a little operatic reconstruction out of Donizetti with Tomas playing the principal role on cello, Stevie Wonder's ravishing "Cause We've Ended Now as Lovers," Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer". . . They make each song work for them, express their group sound, in ways that are both ingeneous and make for a beautiful listen.

Ulrich, perhaps more so than on any of their previous disks, steps forward with a dramatically exuberant style, molto expressivo. But Mr. Bisio and Mr. Sturm are indispensable and equally exceptional components to the music, as always.

A more detailed track-by-track rundown could follow here, but this is music that is best when administered by ear. I believe I can say without the least bit of hype that this is one of a handful of the most interesting, innovative and enjoyable small groups out there today. Covers must be heard more than once before it all sinks in. But it has an advantage to the average listener in that it is accessible for all the right reasons. Not because it panders. Because it communicates! Radio stations, take note. Check the CIMP link on this site for more info.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gary Lucas, Jeff Buckley, Gods and Monsters, 1992

You Tube has in a relatively short time accumulated a large cache of music holdings, some with video visual, some not. If you are not familiar with an artist or a particular period, it is a great place to go to stream relevant examples.

And so it is with the Gods and Monsters lineup that had Jeff Buckley on vocals (and second guitar?), Gary Lucas, guitars, and Anton Fier on drums. There is a wonderfully evocative posting on You Tube of the band in action, live at St. Ann's Church, NYC, 1992. This is audio only, but an entire show. The sound is decent, though Fier's drumming when present is under-recorded.

What strikes one about the set is the energizing contrast between Buckley's incredibly ranging and expressive voice with the inimitable psychedelic uniqueness of Gary Lucas in the electric mode. Adaptations of folk songs ("Satisfied Mind"), altered blues and singular originals are equally stunning. Gary sets up really interesting, orchestral soundscapes based on guitar overlaying onto temporally expanded digital delay and repetition devices, or nails it directly with more straightforward live on-spot playing one-to-one into his amp, while Buckley enthralls with some incredibly interesting vocal stylings. This is one of those collaborations made somewhere in the clouds. Some eighteen years later it sounds not in the least dated.

Gary Lucas was and still is the complete guitarist with a style all his own; the same of course was true of Jeff Buckley and his vocals. Go to and search for Gods and Monsters (G & M), Gary Lucas, or Jeff Buckley and you should soon find the thread of the concert. Don't miss it. Then go and track down the official recordings! Lucas is the monster here, Buckley the god! It is a superb experience, a musico-cultural artifact that should be treasured as a masterwork of the so-called modern era. That's how it hits me, anyway.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A First Album From Julie Slick, Electric Bassist

One thing I've learned (I hope more than one thing, but. . . ), that chops are important (you have to have them to as great a degree as possible) but taken only in themselves, they are not enough. So when I listen to a player, chops alone do not impress me. Technique must be harnessed to the service of music. All the chops in the world don't mean a thing if the music isn't happening.

So when I started listening to bassist Julie Slick's new first album (Julie Slick, no album ID #), I was pleased that the music is foremost. I wasn't surprised really. She's been an integral member of Adrian Belew's trio, and he doesn't hire people unless they can smoke him with their musicianship. She has chops, absolutely, but the entire album is musically strong. As Ms. Slick mentioned in our recent interview with her (see June 18th) the album naturally evolved into a series of artistic collaborations with some heavy prog rock luminaries. So you'll find she's teamed up on various cuts with Robert Fripp, Marco Minnemann, Pat Mastelotto, and others. Each number has its own sound and mood, but she's deeply immersed in some advanced rock and it all shows that Julie can think while she plays (not everybody can!). This is a group sound with good contributions from everybody and some very hip bass playing from Julie.

You listen to the album and you think, not "god, who is that bass player?" but instead, "hey, this is some nice music" and then "who is that on bass?"

Really, there are excellent sounds to be had on this one! Give it a listen. You can find out more by going to

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Eric Hofbauer's "American Fear": Solo Guitar Adventures

When Eric Hofbauer makes a solo guitar album, he doesn't necessarily do the expected. Take this, his second such offering, American Fear! (Creative Nation Music 019). It has the theme of, yes, right, how fear realizes itself in the various avenues of American Society. Truth to tell, while the idea is interesting, knowing what Mr. Hofbauer is after doesn't really give you a huge leg up on the music. The music does that all by itself.

I don't mean to be flip, especially not on July 4th, as I sip my early morning coffee and drift in and out of reveries on holidays past. But the fact is, Eric Hofbauer's artistry takes center stage on this recital. It is quite real. As you listen to his playing of what sounds like an archtop (though in an inner sleeve photo it looks like there are pickups, so a mildly amplified traditional jazz instrument?), and he goes from a Tears for Fears song played in two part improvisational style, separating bass lines (not walking lines, either) from treble lines in a two-way dialog of ingenuity. . . or you hear him channeling a Charlie Parker tune with a muted, buzzing sound caused I assume by interweaving a piece of paper in between the strings. . . or the kind of very skilled, in and out use of sophisticated harmonic voicings and then an odd single line or two....Eric Hofbauer, my point, is a guitarist of great creativity and imagination.

The combination of redefinitions of songs by Nirvana, Van Halen, Andrew Hill and Eric Hofbauer's own original improvisational pieces, the way he approaches the guitar, and the SOUND of that guitar make for a really interesting program. I'm impressed with him! His music may be about fear, but it reassures with some exceptional soloing.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lawnmower: Two Electric Guitars, Alto Sax, Drums Play the Unexpected

Drummer and Musical Sculptor Luther Gray apparently spent many hours of his formative life mowing lawns while listening to music on a walkman. It was a place and time where Gray heard a wide variety of styles reflecting his changing musical interests. With the CD West (Clean Feed 178) by his group Lawnmower he puts together an intriguing set that reflects the experience, filtered by the softening of the edges of musical memory with time.

It's Geoff Farina and Dan Little on on electric guitars, Jim Hobbs on alto sax, and of course Gray himself. This is music with a difference. The guitars use tremolo, feedback and drone blocks of sound to evoke an earlier era. Hobbs adds a distinctively sharp alto sax, and Gray plays a variety of drum roles, from quiet freedom to pulsation.

It's a kind of reflective free psychedelic raga jazz. Most importantly, it works as a most interesting and evocative musical event. It certainly references obliquely an earlier period (late '60s-early '70s) in contemporary music. It is very evolved, a sophisticated offshoot of the psychedelic freak outs some people made in their garages or at the end of the school dances back then. Only it's just much better than most if not virtually all of that.

In fact it is one of those great ideas musically. It's a great idea that comes off to near perfection. Don't expect hot licks. It's an ensemble effort. A group painting in sound color. It's rather daring. It's fully engaging. You get the point.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Pineapple Thief, "Someone Here is Missing"

Following up on our June 16th interview with Bruce Soord of The Pineapple Thief (see below), and since a couple of weeks have gone by since the release of their new album Someone Here is Missing (Kscope 147), it seems like a good time to take a look at that album.

Well, as the interview alluded, this is a new phase for the band. They still have an edginess and the BIG sound that has gained them a loyal following.This is an album that jumps out of the speakers. The arrangements and production have dynamics and transparency, depth. The guitars kick you in the teeth when they need to, synths, piano and rhythm section slam their way through sometimes, get very quiet other times. And the vocals have terrific staging. Now that's something The Pineapple Thief have been very good at all that practically from the beginning.

The difference though is that the songs are more sharply focused. less filled with angst, but in a phrase, MORE ACCESSIBLE to those not already under the spell of this most interesting band. There's a whole youthful crowd out there that will find this music compelling.

And so all success to the band going forward. This is as usual on a high musical level. It has magic. It has drama. And it has good musical content. The Pineapple Thief have never been about cliche and so they still are quite musically rewarding. This is an indie rock masterpiece in its own way. It goes beyond its post-prog roots to occupy, if you will excuse the phrase, a post-post-prog world. They have established their own turf in another neighborhood. And it feels like home! Excellent.