Friday, December 31, 2010

Flamenco-Fused Rumba From Sabor de Gracia

Spain's Sabor de Gracia has a bunch of albums out, but their newest Sabor pa Rato (World Village 498037) is my first exposure to them. La Rumba Catalana is what they do, and they really do it well! It combines the rhythms and general horn-percussion-vocal style of rumba from the Latin tradition and adds local elements--from Gypsy-flamenco strains. The music that results is a captivating blend. There are minor-key melodies to be savored (flamenco-like to greater or lesser degree at any point), a preponderance of flamenco acoustic guitars adding their dynamic strums much of the time, and a melodic-rhythmic distinctiveness that comes out in some pretty highly developed songs. There's a little funk in there too and some samba touches as well.

The band has an infectiously joyous drive. The flamenco guitars, an occasional electric solo that comes out of something Carlos Santana would admire, horn and string lines that give you much to appreciate, very considerable vocal charm from the solo singers and chorus (with rather thrilling moments of flamenco cantilation), a good percussion section. . . this is music that satisfies on many levels.

And the band is tight! I feel the joy. Definitely recommended!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lively Tuvan Music from Huun Huur Tu, "Ancestors Call"

The Republic of Tuva occupies the borderlands of southern Siberia. It was once under the control of Mongolia, then China, and has been affiliated with Russia since the beginning of last century. Tuvans have gained international recognition from world music enthusiasts for their beautifully striking throat-singing. By manipulating their throat and mouth cavity they are able to produce multiple tones and overtones of a singular nature.

As the vocal group Huun Huur Tu shows in their album Ancestors Call (World Village 468107), they have a rich song tradition that is much more than a means to show off vocal techniques. There are some similarities to the music of of Tibet and Mongolia (and/or vice-versa) in their music, but much else that sounds like neither. It is Tuvan, after all. It comes principally out of Siberian Shamanistic practices that go back many centuries

Huun Huur Tu is a vocal-instrumental quartet who straddle the line between tradition and modernity.They play traditional Tuvan musical instruments but also make use of acoustic guitars. To a listener such as myself, they sound very Tuvan. No disco numbers here!

The recording is a treasure of ballads, droned or long-toned recitation and lively uptempo numbers. The overtone singing ranges from a whistling high-chordal approach to rich, low-overtoned timbres. Conventional vocal delivery comes into play much of the time as well. The emphasis is on the song at hand. Either way this is marvelous music, marvelously performed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Intriguing Guitar Music of Henze (Volume Two)

Now I haven't heard the first volume of Naxos' collection of the guitar music of Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926), but if it's anything like volume two (Guitar Music 2) (Naxos 8.557345), it is something very good indeed. Volume two centers around the beautifully executed and thoroughly conceived performances of guitarist Franz Halasz. Henze's music is quite difficult to play and Maestro Halasz not only makes it seem easy, he brings out the logic of the music in ways that give comprehension, cohesion, and a great deal of pleasure to my ears.

There are four works represented here, covering the composer's output between 1974 and 1986. The very beautiful "Guitar Sonata No. 1 on Shakespearean Characters" opens the program, and it is delightful. "Carillon, Recitatif, Masque" follows, scored for guitar, mandolin and harp. It too is extraordinarily attractive. Henze's detailed concern for the sonoric possibilities at hand combines with his very fluid inventive genius, here and elsewhere. It's music that is as modern as modern can be, yet has a sensuous quality that engages the listener on a visceral level.

The 1986 "Ode to an Aeolian Harp" joins Halasz with a chamber ensemble. It further underscores Henze's transparent, brightly colored musical palette. The wind-like play of phrasing and the somewhat brittle solo guitar response make for pure magic.

Great music, fabulous performances! Now I must hear Volume One. Henze should not be overlooked. He is a master and these are some compositional jewels.

Michael Bisio, Solo Bassist

Dave Holland (album on ECM), Bertram Turetsky (especially The Contemporary Contrabass, released as an LP long ago on Nonesuch), William Parker, and Peter Kowald come to mind as having recorded exceptional contrabass solo work. I'm probably leaving someone out, but theirs are the performances that have become vividly etched in my musical memory banks. Now I can add to that list Michael Bisio, who has just recorded and released a full CD of solo bass, Travel Music (self-released, no catalog #).

It is intended not as an exercise in wizardry (which it also happens to be), but rather as MUSIC for the contrabass. And it succeeds remarkably well. Any acoustic bassist with a full set of techniques should be able to achieve liftoff both with the bow and pizzicato. Liftoff is just the start of the trip, though. It's where you go that matters in the long run. Michael shows himself a well-seasoned traveler with the sense of exploration and ability to go anywhere his muse takes him, anytime. He remains his very expressive self and goes to wonderful musical destinations whether using the bow or the fingers. "Nitro, Don't Leave Home Without It," for example finds Mr. Bisio engaging in the kind of extended creation of expressive energy, arco-style, that could only come from his bow.

Michael pays keen attention to the sound-color capabilities of the instrument, which of course are considerable. He has over the years mastered the near-infinite range of textures and colors available to him, and Travel Music in this and many other ways constitutes a tour de force of bass power and bass finesse.

There are eight improvisations on the disk. One is a loving tribute to Charlie Haden, by way of a poignant meditation on Haden's "Human Being." The program concludes by paying homage to the great master Coltrane with a moving rendition of "Alabama." In between there are eminently musical improvisations that show a structural logic. Phrasing is sure. Expression ranges from a searching and yearning quality to an untrammeled explosion of movement and turbulence.

Ultimately this is to be heard as MUSIC, and that's where Bisio and the recital move a giant stride beyond the too common bass-solo-as-interlude between horn & piano solos, bass solo as a break in the action. With Travel Music the bass IS the action, front and center. One does not expect the music to resume after the solo ends. The music is right there, from beginning to end. That's been the way with Mr. Bisio for a long time. He never fills space! This album gives him the chance to show in an extended way how far he has gone into territories both charted and unknown.

Travel Music is an exciting journey through a contrasting set of moods and modes. It's a terrific example of the solo bass as a vehicle for some real improvising, spontaneous composing and masterful weaving of line and tone. It should disabuse anyone who doubts that Michael Bisio is one of a small handful of true proponents of the musical contrabass in improvisation today. This album spells it out for you, in ways that are exhilarating, breathtaking, moving, and meditative in turn. Do not miss it. For further info and sound samples, copy and paste the following URL into your browser:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rhode Island's Green Tea Jamband Captured Live

Some time ago I promised I would survey the Jambands out there, at least in the US. After a long pause, I look at another this morning. Green Tea is an outfit that hails from Rhode Island and apparently has garnered a loyal following there. I've been listening to a show from a band-approved download in the Live Holdings of It's the band holding forth at the Woodriver Inn in Hope Valley, RI on February 2, 2008.

The music fills two full CDs. It gives you a pretty good idea of what they are about. They do a mix of covers and what seem like originals. Their vocals are rough-and-ready Dead style, meaning that they are spirited. Not always perfect, but spirited.

It's with the instrumental presentation that they thrive. The rhythm section has an appealing looseness. The lead guitarist has a Garcia influence, as is the case with many bands of this sort, but he can stray from it as well. The second guitarist plays a pivotal rhythm guitar role most of the time and it seems to me that jambands in the Dead tradition rely on such a role heavily much as a straight-ahead bop-jazz outfit will rely on the pianist feeding chord comps of the changes to the soloist.

Judging from the evidence of this recording, this is a band that can rock you and jam you of an evening. Enough said. Catch them if they are appearing around your area and it sounds like you'll have a great time. Stay tuned for more bands in future postings.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rash Behari Datta Performs Raga Malkouns with 20 Sitars

It's Boxing Day (observed?) in many countries and a happy one for those that have it. Many people have the day off regardless. Much good has it done us, and much good it will do us, as a reformed Scrooge said. Snow is piled up high here in the New York Metro area. But the music must go on!

Today something very special. Indian Hindustani classical musician and composer Rash Behari Datta has a CD out of Raga Malkouns performed on 20 Sitars (ARC Music 2312). Something of this scope, as far as I know, has never been attempted, and the results are rather excellent. As in a conventional Jugalbandi duet, there are composed passages. Then there are sections where a principal sitar will elaborate on the rag and the other sitars will comment, embellish and accompany. Sometimes there are simultaneous improvisations as well.
It's all quite exhilarating to hear.

Maestro Datta accomplishes all this by means of overdubbing numerous parts. Sarvar Sabri accompanies on tabla. The effect is sometimes one of harmonization, sometimes multi-melodic-scalular, sometimes there is a compositional punch gained. In all cases the music emerges from the raga tradition and does not transgress the bounds of good taste. Most importantly it has a ravishing sonority and beauty.

As an added bonus the CD concludes with a short but pithy exposition of Raag Shobhavari by sitarist Baluji Shrivastav. He plays only one sitar on this improvisation (!), but it is a nice performance and makes one want to hear more of him as well.

A one-of-a-kind event, this disk is. I would love to hear a raga performed with many stringed instruments and also many tablas, perhaps tuned to different pitches as Zakir Hussein managed so successfully in the Diga Rhythm Band. That's another time. perhaps. What matters is that 20 Sitars affords a rather marvelous sonic experience. Anyone who likes Hindustani classical music will no doubt find it rewarding.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fernandez and Wright Showcase Their Songs, Singing, Instrumentality

Australia doesn't get a great deal of attention up here in the States. At least not unless you search around for what music is happening there. The Necks have been on my "A" list for a while now, for example, but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a list of contemporary Australian artists of any length. It's not that things aren't happening there though.

Fernandez & Wright are definitely one thing that's happening. They are Vanessa Fernandez, songwriter and singer; and Steve Wright, guitarist and songwriter. Their album Unsung (New Market 3265.2) gives us a good listen to what they are about. It's ten original songs, done by the songwriting team, sung beautifully by Ms. Fernandez, with some very nicely subtle guitar work by Mr. Wright. The songs are personal, about love mostly, and they range from a bossa-Jobim feel to gently but thoroughly funky. It's all too contemporary to be cabaret, it's closer to jazzed singer-songwriter fare. Norah Jones comes to mind, but only in contrast. Vanessa's voice is more earthy and soulful, and really quite good. The music is actually closer to the jazz edge of the song spectrum than Norah's.

Some very nice songs, good instrumental arrangements and a deeply soulful vocal talent. That's a good thing to combine and this album does it in a way that brings much musical pleasure.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bassist Hugo Antunes Heads A Quintet On "Roll Call"

The more I hear of the Portuguese jazz scene the more impressive it seems to me. That's mostly thanks to the big ears of the folks at Clean Feed and their ambitious release schedule. Take today's CD, for example, Hugo Antunes' Roll Call (Clean Feed 197). I'm not precisely sure who in this sextet is and who isn't on the Portuguese scene (the CD was recorded in Brussels) but it illustrates my point nonetheless. Hugo plays a solid avant bass and writes some adventurous material. Joining him are two winds and two drummers: Daniele Martini on tenor and Toine Thys on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet; the two drummers are Joao Lobo and Marek Patrman.

This is music that breathes fire yet also gives contrasting space and runs through contrasting arranged, written and improvised routines that mix it up enough that one's attention remains focused throughout. It's a kind of in-and-out sensibility that much on Clean Feed puts forward these days. Yet Hugo Antunes' group does not in any way sound generic or derivative. I am occasionally reminded of the group sound of Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition band from the seventies, when Chico Freeman switched to the bass clarinet to contrast with the tenor of David Murray while the piano-less ensemble took the tempo loosely and convincingly. Now that's just a matter of the sound, and Antunes' group is not otherwise playing the mimic to that remarkable ensemble. And here we have two drummers, not one, working especially well together, one drummer's sound and execution contrasting with the other's at all points. And sometimes they kick up a hell of a row, inciting the horn men to both dizzying heights and tightly focused interaction. Both Thys and Martini are very good players. They sound good singly and, especially, working in tandem on double improvisations and arranged routines.

Roll Call constitutes another surprise, a sleeper, a jazz wolf in sheep's clothing. You look at the cover, you say to yourself, "OK..." Then you play the CD a few times and you say, "OK!!"

It's a goody. Give us some more of this, Hugo!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ranjit Barot Proffers A Remarkable Indian Fusion Blend on "Bada Boom"

Music keeps going on in this world no matter what else is happening. It is a source of endless satisfaction to have the privilege to be exposed to new and exciting musical work.

That's how I feel when listening to drummer Ranjit Barot's Bada Boom (Abstract Logix 026). Ranjit has assembled a wonderful cast of musicians to play a kind of Indo-American fusion that to my ears has not been heard in quite this way before. When something is new and different, description becomes more of a challenge, but I welcome the opportunity to sing the praises of this one.

Where to start? Ranjit Barot's drumming? It is really impressive. He gets the rhythmic sophistication of classical Indian ways of playing with the drive and command of the fusion drum approach. It is a marvel. His compositions are no less impressive because they combine aspects of Indian vocalizing and rhythmic patterns with a melodic-harmonic orientation that seems to me is quite original. His lead vocals are really quite good as well. I found that the music made me catch my breath and I'm still finding that to be the case.

Then the cast of musical luminaries. Not only is it impressive, the performances too are something to hear with awe. Zakir Hussain on tabla for example, is an ideal participant--because of his innovative and masterful command of the musical language, but also because he has been one of the key pioneers in Indo-fusion as it has evolved since that later sixties. John McLaughlin....of course the same applies and he sounds great. U. Srinivas on mandolin? One of those players that you hear once and that's IT! There are many others, some from the "Western" camp, some out of the Indian tradition, but they all contribute excellently crafted pieces to this elegant solution to the jigsaw puzzle of cosmic musical life.

I don't think I can say enough about this one. It is something not to be missed. Maestro Barot has crafted an ornate and lustrous musical jewel. I hope he does many more and that I will be hear to appreciate them!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Decline of British Sea Power, Zeus EP

The Decline of British Sea Power is one of the most interesting of today's indie rock bands. And they have become quite prolific, with the Zeus EP (Rough Trade) out in the latter half of this year and another full CD coming early in 2011.

I've been listening to the EP and it's something that grabs your ear. The songs are quirky and memorable, the vocals strong, the arrangements enveloping and singular. And the music has an edge to it, which I appreciate. In other words they continue to move in areas that made them stand out in the first place.

It's what's going on today. That is, it's what's GOOD today. One of those groups that one follows with interest. At least I do. Zeus. Come down from his cloudy Mt. Olympus.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Floyd McDaniel Plays The Classic Blues on "West Side Baby"

The blues. I have them. The times are right for them. They've been with me since I was a kid and I always return to them to refresh my soul. Floyd McDaniel may not be a name everybody knows but he embodies the blues. He died at age 80 in 1995 after a long career as another of the many notable Chicago bluesmen. If you've lived on the South Side of Chicago you know that the blues never needed reviving there. It's been a constant in the fabric of life since the urban blues revolution hit, when guitarists plugged in and let it ride, baby.

Floyd was recorded in concert in Germany in his last days. West Side Baby (Delmark DE-706) is the new re-release of that gig, and it shows you that age is no factor when the blues are real. There he was, 79 years old, singing and wailing on lead guitar, backed by a very hip band, affirming to everyone that blues with a feeling has no mandatory retirement age. The album was out-of-print for a while but it's here again and it's worth checking out.

Mr. McDaniel gives us some of his own special versions of some of the all-time classics--Handy's "St. Louis Blues," T-Bone's "Mean Old World," "Route 66," "Evening," which Jimmy Rushing made his own, "Sweet Home Chicago" and Floyd's own signature "West Side Baby," among others. He digs in and makes them Floyd McDaniel songs, absolutely.

It's prime, vibrantly alive music. Floyd plays a very soulful lead and his vocals are right there too. It's some stunning music if you dig the real blues. It's the way I'm sure he would want to be remembered. Click on the Delmark link below for more info and/or to order a copy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

California Guitar Trio Presents "Andromeda," Celebrates 20 Years

Twenty years of the California Guitar Trio. That is something to commemorate and celebrate. That's in fact what they do on their latest, Andromeda (CGT 7758) (available as CD or LP).In case you missed them, they spun off from Robert Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists and play three lovely sounding acoustic guitars. And a big part of why they sound lovely is the playing of course.

The new album is a bit of a culmination of where they've been going in the last two decades. There are the contrapuntal figuration patterns that are quasi-minimalist, strumming and picking patterns and melodic ensemble segments of great beauty and a kind of cosmic chamber mentality.

This one is no doubt one of their very best. The originals (which comprise all of the selections) are bright and glowing. There are some guest musicians here and there who add color and depth to the pieces. What else? It's really pleasant and intricate. It's progressive acoustic music I suppose. Whatever you want to call it, it is highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Junior Wells Kicks Tail on a Previously Unissued Live Recording

When I was a kid there were bargain 45-rpm record deals to be had at my local 5 & 10. You'd get something like 10 records for, if I remember right, $1.19. They put a minor hit on the outside edge of each side of the package, to entice you to buy. Buried within were eight more records, and those were not hits. You'd wind up with all kinds of things. In one pack I found a single by Junior Wells, "Up in Heah." I listened and I was entranced. It sounded like the Rolling Stones (well, in a way), only better. I had discovered the blues, the source! I bought some more "flop packs," as my peers called them, and was turned on to more blues artists, Jimmy Reed, for example. I was hooked. And I realized that music that was not in the top 10 pop charts could be good, great, even better than the hits! My listening expanded from there but I was a confirmed Junior Wells fan from that moment on.

Junior passed in 1998 and the world lost a great one. But of course his music lives on. Now we have an unearthed treasure to savor, a previously unreleased Junior Wells live date with his wonderful Aces, Live in Boston 1966 (Delmark 809). The sound is good and Jr. and the band is smoking! What a band. Junior vocals and harp, the legendary Fred Below on drums, Louis Meyers on guitar and Dave Myers on bass. At the time of the recording they were one of the hottest and hippest blues bands alive and they show you how hot on these sides.

They cover some of the blues classics in a way the only Jr. Wells and the Aces could. After his version, who cared about the others? This is blues with a blazing immediacy, soul incarnate. Live in Boston captures the excitement of live Junior, one of the greatest blues acts that ever graced the stage in a small club. And he was at a peak in 1966!

From "Feelin' Good" (He sings "gonna boog-gae" like his immortal sound depended on it) to "Got My Mojo Workin'" this is totally prime Wells and Aces.

Oh I know you know, if you know. But even if you KNOW, this is the stuff to KNOW. This is a killer disk, a knockout, a TKO in the first round. Do NOT miss this, if you have a soul, if you have soul, if you have soles on your shoes to walk down to your neighborhood record store (oops, there aren't any left. . . ) well take a virtual walk through cyberspace if you need to, just get to a place that sells this one. Like, which you can get to by clicking the Delmark link in the section below. Then pop it on your player. Then you'll really KNOW you KNOW. Honest.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bassist Hugo Carvalhais Crafts Some Extraordinary Ensemble Jazz

Portuguese bassist Hugo Carvalhais has shown on the new Nebulosa CD (Clean Feed 201) that there is a way to have some really interesting free-yet-structured music going that incorporates electronics as it would another horn or keyboard--that is, they become an integral part of the ensemble.

On this recording date it's a very intelligent mix of Hugo on bass and electronics, Gabriel Pinto on piano and synthesizer, Mario Costa on drums, and, for most of the cuts, the always-coherent Tim Berne on the alto.

Mr. Carvalhais plays a meaty and well-conceived style of contrabass with great attention to sound and use of space; Gabriel Pinto has a harmonic-melodic richness to his playing that adds much to the group; Mario Costa drives and tumbles from the drum chair in ways that suggest adeptly various velocities and densities in the freetime zone; Tim Berne is magnificent as you might expect; the electronics provide quasi-orchestral sound colors and timbres that really add to the music. And Mr. Pinto takes a few nice synthesizer-as-horn solos that bring out another dimension to the group.

This could easily be passed over in the scuffle for attention that characterizes the new release media blitz. It most assuredly should not. Because there is some terrific music here--compositionally, improvisationally and ensemble-wise.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Michael William Gilbert Paints Aural Soundscapes of Beauty

According to what I read Michael William Gilbert was taken in his formative years with the music of Varese and Pierre Henry plus the music of India, Africa, and Japan. Since the '70s he has been forging his own brand of electronic music, culminating in his latest CD I Can See From Here (Gibex 006). The early influences are embedded somewhere in his approach, but there is a decided contemporary, post-previous sound to what he does in 2010.

These are rock-inflected soundscape pieces that are aurally rich, melodious and almost visual in their immediacy. Guitarist Peter Kaukonen puts in a nice appearance on one of the pieces. The rest are Mr. Gilbert performing feats of musical wizardry by himself. That does not imply that the music has a "solo" sound to it. On the contrary this is a full ensemble of musical voices. The sources are electronically generated or sampled; they are transformed in quite imaginative ways.

This is music where world and rock grooves underpin the melodic envelopes, and that factor should help make the music accessible to a wider audience.

It is a fine outing. The music is engaging, lush and cavernous in ways that put you into another zone. Kudos to Michael William Gilbert for that!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guitarist Joe Morris and the New CD "Camera"

Joe Morris is a horizontal cat. By that I do not mean that he spends his time lying on the couch. It's his improvisation style on guitar. It has extraordinary linear motion. Like a Jackson Pollock canvas he fills out his improvisations in an all-over sort of way. Not from top to bottom so much as from point A to point B. His lines are inventive, harmonically multivalent, continuous and very expressive. It's safe to say that nobody sounds like him. And it's not just that he is note-ful. He constructs melodic cells that not-so-much repeat as they form sets of variations on variations, continually spiraling upwards, to return at each pass in a differing way. And yet it is not cyclical lines he constructs, really. They are horizontal, reaching toward the future.

Well that's my take. Joe Morris is a guitar original. There's no better place to experience his playing than on his latest CD, Camera (ESP 4063). That's a nicely extended live set recorded this year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Joining him is the equally all-over Luther Gray on drums, plus a kind of string section of Katt Hernandez on violin and Junko Fujiwara Simons on cello.

You get plenty of time to hear the group in action, and the action is quite good. There is a uniqueness to the sound. And for me it's a kind of horizontal experience, a journey in time, an unfolding of avant improvisatory melodic richness.

Joe Morris has created his own musically free zone. Go there on Camera and get transfixed. Don't miss him, especially this new one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble and Their New CD "Celebrations"

This is the season when festive light and musical celebrations come together for a few weeks, regardless of one's religious affiliations. I admit I am just a little late on this one (though good music is timeless). There's a nice CD by Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble that will help bring some light into the early winter. Celebrations (MeII) takes four traditional melodies from the Chanukah festival, two from Purim, and one original, and puts together a program of some very cool modern Latin and contemporary jazz.

Eugene Marlow did the arrangements and plays a nice funky set of keys. The irrepressible master of the pocket, Bobby Sanabria is on drums, virtually guaranteeing that things will be hip. Michael Hashim puts in a good effort on the reeds and the engine room is completed by a limber Frank Wagner on bass and Cristian Rivera stoking the flames on Latin percussion.

Now with these sorts of musical adaptations, the music either works or it doesn't. It works, thanks to the very good chemistry of the band and Mr. Marlow's excellent arranging instincts and talents, not to mention his very lively presence at the keys. Michael and Bobby make the music breathe too--but then the whole band is on the mark here.

This is excellent music! And it fits the season. It fits any season.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Roy Gaines and his "Tuxedo Blues"

The blues are not dead! They continue to thrive in the hands of the best of those practicing today. One of them is Roy Gaines, whose Tuxedo Blues (Black Gold 001237) gives you the best of the urban blues right now. A swinging big band, Roy's warmly soulful voice and his compelling blues-meets-jazz guitar solo style are out front and on it. He came out of Texas, dug T-Bone Walker, played in the bands of Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker. . . all that should give you an idea where he is coming from.

He embodies the heritage of the soul-bluesman and he puts in something that is his. The blues feeling is there, solid, right down to the to the lyrics. (He wants to take his baby for a walk but those mosquitoes are too mean!)

Roy Gaines needs to be heard. He needs to be recognized as a happening cat. Buy this CD and you'll keep him out there doing it!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kronomorfic Makes A Kind of Musical Magic

Some music sneaks up on you. You listen once and you think, "that's pretty interesting," but you don't drop what you are doing and run around the block shouting the news. Then later after more listens you start to appreciate the subtleties that only become apparent in time. That's how I experienced the Kronomorfic album Micro Temporal Infundibula (pfMentum CD059).

It's a collective of musicians with an improvisational-compositional agenda that doesn't quite fit into the typical pigeonholes ready-made to ease any uncertainties. It's a six-member outfit. David Borgo plays reeds, wrote one of the pieces, and arranged the music; Paul Pellegrin is a polyrhythmic force on drums and percussion and wrote eight of the compositions; Bill Barrett plays a lively chromatic harmonica; Junior Garrison plays a very atmospheric electric guitar; Nathan Hubbard gives the ensemble aural character on vibes and marimba; Danny Weller is on doublebass and pinions the groove and fundamentals nicely.

The music has an almost through-composed aspect to it. There are metrical grooves, highly interesting voicings for the ensemble, interestingly atypical melodies, contrapuntal ensemble densities that keep interest levels high, and some very worthy improvisations, especially from David Borgo. The improvisational and compositional elements integrate so well that the distinctions become less important in light of the total ensemble experience.

This is a kind of jazz that that grooves as it also provides some quite sophisticated musical fare. There are African influences and much else besides. Kronomorfic is a total pleasure for those with ears hungry for something beyond the ordinary. Very much recommended.

Monday, December 6, 2010

John McLaughlin’s New Electric Album “To the One”

It is most surely a good thing that John McLaughlin has been devoting much of his attention to the electric guitar. Not to take away from his acoustic playing, which has had some wonderful periods (I like the Shakti sides and the trio with Trilok Gurtu best), but after all it was as a musical electrician that John originally revolutionized the music world, with Miles, Lifetime, Mahavishnu and on from there.

When McLaughlin burst onto the scene he had of course incredible technique but also a unique harmonic-melodic-rhythmic approach. And he had a sound: wiry, screaming at times, very electric but also distinctive.

His new album with the 4th Dimension band, To the One (Abstract Logix 027), shows him in great form burning up the fretboard with 16th note runs, rekindling the old fire, letting the guitar breathe with natural pauses between phrases, doing the things you expect from McLaughlin. But his sound has changed. Now one cannot expect someone to keep the sound the same all the time. Especially with the electric guitar. These days he has a richer tone, in part a product of the effects he uses. It sounds like he's adding plenty of chorus and a little flanger perhaps. It takes some getting used to and it’s been a part of his new sound for a while so it’s not a surprise. It’s a different McLaughlin in that sense though. Maybe a tad more like other players in the fusion bag. That’s all fine but it is a factor in McLaughlin today, no less than the later Stan Getz had a different sound than the earlier. Artists hear a different sound, the technology of electronics changes and artists find something available to them that they like. So, cool.

In the main To the One is a strong outing. The band has Gary Husband on keys and drums and a second drummer in Mark Mondesir (and a great drummer is critical to the McLaughlin onslaught. We’re covered there.) Bassist Etienne M’Bappe sounds limber and on the game as the one in charge of the bottom.

The originals are mostly worthy, with a few a bit less distinguished than what one might expect. Some of the harmonic-melodic interest of the early McLaughlin seems to be less in the foreground. Perhaps it is more important to establish the new electric band at this point and work further magic as time goes by. This is an Inner Mounting Flame to a future Birds of Fire, perhaps. That would be nice!

The fact is though, that this is a very good McLaughlin outing. I hope this band keeps developing its repertoire and growing ever tighter. Cheers, then.

Adam Lane Returns with a Rather Stunning “Ashcan Rantings”

Adam Lane is not only one of the superb bassists of his generation, he is also a formidable composer and bandleader. The latest edition of the large Full Throttle Orchestra and the new 2-CD set Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed 203) shows all of this in abundance. Full Throttle is a kind of mini-big band with seven horns, bass and drums. Nate Wooley and Taylor Ho Bynam on trumpets and reedmen Avram Fefer-Matt Bauder are probably the best known of the lot, but everybody plays an important role in the proceedings.

Basically the music on this fine set has an out-front Lane as the effectively weighty anchor for all that transpires. There are wonderfully voiced horn lines, spirited ventures into straight-eight, swing, balladic choral, and freetime feels and arrangements that set off and balance the solos in a near-perfect symbiosis.

Everyone clicks, everything works and Mr. Lane gives us an album that exemplifies what contemporary jazz is all about when it’s done right: it’s in turn exciting, accomplished and both well-conceived and in-the-moment. If you buy only ten jazz albums this year, this might well be one you should include on your list.

Adler-DeFrancesco-Landham Create Organ Trio Heaven-On-Earth

I am back after several days without an internet hookup.

If you're going to do an organ trio, especially one that has a certain hommage-to-the-ancestors sort of spin to it, you should make sure you swing your a__ off. Guitarist Dan Adler does that, thanks to his own knack along with Joey DeFrancesco on the Hammond and Byron Lantham at the drums. On Back to the Bridge (EMDAN MUSIC 820360144325) they absolutely DO that.

Dan Adler has all the swing and facility to pull it off. He has the style DOWN. He can lay back on the beat just a hair to get the swing intensified, he has inventive ideas within the style, and flawlessly bright execution. This guy has it! Joey DeFrancesco on organ you probably already know about. But if you don't, this CD is a great example of his traditional Hammond artistry that gives just enough of the contemporary touch as to keep this from becoming an organ-trio museum exhibit.

The repertoire mixes grooved-out versons of standards, some jazz chestnuts that have not worn out their welcome and a couple of nice Adler originals.

This one kicks it. I will file it next to the classic organ trio recordings I have, because it is worthy to be included in the best of the tradition. More I cannot say. That says it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Gary Lucas Single "Music for the Eden Project"

There is more than one side to Gary Lucas, guitarist extraordinaire. There's the Beefheartian avant electric bluesman, the shredding bandleader, the explorer of interesting "world music" syntheses, the soundscape artist and the acoustic picking and sliding master. No doubt one could split out these different areas into further subdivisions, but that's for another day.

What is important at the moment though is that there's a new single 7" vinyl Gary Lucas solo recording Music for the Eden Project (Snakefork), and it gives you two rather delightful miniatures, both composed and performed for use in a psychedelic environmental installation put together by UK artist Paul McGowan.

Each side is devoted to one of Gary's stylistic pursuits. One side is a masterful example of the acoustic picking style Gary has so well developed, and it is melifluous while having a forward-moving, finger-picking motor thrust (try saying that fast 10 times before your bowl of Wheaties tomorrow morning). The other side is a mini-soundscape with the patented Lucas psychedelic guitar solo aided and abetted by various effects to enable Gary to do the whole piece in one shot live. Lucas music lovers will know from the various excellent releases what those two musical territories entail. The single gives you more and does not disappoint. My only quibble is that there isn't enough. I want more of this "more." But hey, it IS a single, isn't it? The limited edition release is in colored vinyl too (my copy is in green), so you get something cool to have as well as to listen to. You can grab the disk at Gary's website or go the the Snakefork Facebook page.

So who is complaining?