Thursday, March 31, 2011

Marty Williams's Old School Soul Jazz: "Long Time Comin'"

Marty Williams works within a style most definitely old-school. He has a piano approach that owes something to the original funk players (the gospel-soul tinged sensibility of Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons, etc.). He sings in a soulful husky voice that reminds just a little of Gil Scott-Heron. Then he has a rootsy band of himself on piano, plus guitar, bass and drums. So in a way his music is an extension of those small group outings of Les McCann or Mose Allison. His Long Tome Comin" (In A Moon Bay Records) album hits a spot that to me refreshes that style and refreshes the ears like a sorbet between courses (not that I have the life-style right now that involves such niceties).

He covers a good selection of pop standards ("Love for Sale"), jazz standards ("Monk's Dream"), rock standards ("Come Together"), soul-jazz standards ("Compared to What"), soul standards ["Brother (Where Are You")], and he does it all in his own down-home, swinging way. The band sounds like they've been playing together for a while too. They are a well-oiled tight-loose organization that has room for Eric Swinderman's guitar and Marty's piano. There is some interesting rearranging too--like on "Monk's Dream."

After 25 years on the San Francisco jazz scene, Marty has arrived. Long Time Comin' is an apt description of it all. He makes music that makes me glad he's here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Classical Guitarist Magdalena Kaltcheva: "Elogio de la Guitarra"

Young Magdalena Kaltcheva greets us with what I believe is her first recording this morning, Elogio de la Guitarra (NCA New Classical Adventure 60219). She is only 24 but sounds rather astonishingly mature on her instrument. From her beginnings in Bulgaria through to studies over Europe, gradually she has captured the attention of the classical guitar world and seems poised on the edge of a long and fruitful career.

It is the quality of her playing on the Elogio CD that convinces me of this. For the recital she has chosen a cross-section of solo works covering the 18th through 20th centuries. The centerpiece surely is the Joaquin Rodrigo work that forms the title of this album. It is, not surprisingly, a work of great charm and idiomatic Spanish guitar writing. Then there are short representative works by Isaac Albeniz, Dominico Scarlatti and the lesser-known Mauro Giuliani.

Ms. Kaltcheva tackles it all with an assured projective presence, beautiful tone and touch, and marvelous phrasing. If as the old saw has it, you get to Carnegie Hall by practice, you also get there by the talent you possess. Magdalena Kaltcheva shows ample evidence of both hard work and superb artistry. And when she gets to Carnegie Hall I hope to be there as part of an appreciative audience.

In the meantime we have this auspicious, sophisticated and artful recital, which should do much to make believers of us all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble, "The Tide Has Changed"

Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble celebrate ten years together as a group. Where was I? I missed them. That's too bad for me because their new CD The Tide Has Changed (World Village 450015) has an aura about it, a patina that might take ten years to develop, and I would have liked to have heard how they got that way.

It's a kind of ECM meets the mid-east/Baltic sound they get. Gilad Atzmon plays alto, soprano and clarinet in a way that sometimes suggests a Jan Garbarek influence, but also incorporates the reed timbre and attack of Klezmer, Semitic and eastern European approaches. He has fluidity when he wants to and he also has a ravishing tone. Yaron Stavi plays a very together bass with bow and pizzicato. Frank Harrison puts forward a well-considered piano style that has contemporiety and a good sense of harmonic voicings. Eddie Hick drums with the tone control of a Connie Kay, with swinging fire as needed. That's the lineup.

The highlight is their adaptation of Ravel's "Bolero," "Bolero at Sunrise," which like the original builds nicely but (unlike the original) with a post-Coltrane sensibility. There are beautiful solos by Atzmon on soprano and Harrison's piano (with a little accordion doubling).

You'll find some very nice ballads, some world-influenced numbers, some numbers that play with the atmosphere, and some rapid fire dance-influenced dance-folk pieces (one in a rapid five), all transformed to "House" style.

This is music that has a jazz pedigree yet also expresses the musical sounds and approaches of the world beyond. It is very well done, not what you'd expect, whatever you'd expect. It's so finely done and smartly conceived that after a few listens to get on its wave-length you are captured. I was. Kudos!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Michael Colina's Three Cabinets of Wonder

Cuban-American composer Michael Colina might be termed a "natural." He does not teach; he is not a performer; he comes to classical composition after writing music and producing musical dates in the jazz field, all that for 25 years. It is only in the past ten years that he has seriously turned his attention to classical works. And yet when one listens to the London Symphony Orchestra perform Three Cabinets of Wonder (Fleur de Son Classics 57999) one would think one has stumbled on a forgotten master of the first half of the 20th century. The music has full maturity and a way with the orchestra that belies the fact that these are some of his first works devoted to the medium. True, he has scored music for off-Broadway shows, commercials and television, and during the process he obviously picked up much practical experience writing for various instrumental combinations. But that does not explain the stylistic polish and the excellent orchestrational craftsmanship that finds its way into his scores. It's very idiomatic. For example the Three Cabinets of Wonder Violin Concerto is an expressive gem. It reminds me of similar works by Khachaturian, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, interestingly enough. And I might say it does not play second fiddle to such works, in terms of its immediacy and lyrical mystery. The violin part is played ravishingly by Anastasia Khitruk.

The following work, Goyescana: Concerto for Guitar, is no less masterful. Based on traditional dance forms, it is written beautifully and features classical guitarist Michael Adriaccio, who evokes all the Latin-American expressiveness the solo part contains. The orchestral parts have a transparency and atmospheric plaintiveness that sets off the solo part perfectly. If Rodrigo comes to mind, it is because the work comes out of that lineage.

Both of these works are brilliantly conceived and excellently performed. They should make a strong bid for incorporation in the standard repertoire of orchestras out there because they have post-romantic, neo-impressionist appeal.

The third work, Los Caprichos, is a suite of eleven short contrasting movements, once again with a strong Latin-American influence. The music delights. Colina again shows a masterful sense of orchestrational poetics.

Michael Colina gives us compositional brilliance on this release. The London Symphony Orchestra under Ira Levin realizes the nuances of each work with clarity and passion, and the soloists do a wonderful job.

Mr. Colina has arrived. This release has much to offer. Those who seek a new voice that does not eschew tradition will find one here. Classical guitar concerto and violin concerto buffs will revel in these new works.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dhoad, Gypsies of Rajasthan: Roots Travellers

From the largest state of India, Rajasthan, comes the performance troupe Dhoad, Gypsies of Rajashan, and their new CD Roots Travellers (World Village).

Under the artistic direction of Rahis Bharti, the group presents a program of very lively folk songs, featuring pulsating Indian percussion, harmonium, a bowed violin-like stringed instrument (sarangi?) and a group of male vocalists, some soloists, some joining in spiritedly in group vocal refrains. The music has the roots-level vibrancy of the earthier versions of devotional music of the region--bhajan and qawwali.

It's music of great beauty, spirit, and drive. Those who know the music of the Bauls of Bengal, Nusrat Khan, the Sabri Brothers, will find something not exactly similar but in the same stylistic lineage. As the title suggest, this is roots music, like bluegrass or delta blues in the US.

It never fails to lift my spirits, every time I listen. And the recording brings out the details in rather brilliant sound. Musical explorers should take note of this one.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bassist Peter Scherr Crafts "Son of August"

Not familiar with Peter Scherr? That may be because he lives in Hong Kong. (But if you are reading this in Hong Kong, you may know of him?) He is an acoustic and electric bassist who writes some nice material. He assembled a sextet in 2008 to record Son of August. This year it enjoys its official global release (1 Hr Music 013).

Turns out this album is quite listenable. It's an electric jazz-rock excursion with good weighty playing from Michael Blake (who was a Lounge Lizard in the '90s) on tenor and soprano, the twin electric guitars of Brad Shepik and Tony Scherr, and Mike Sarin on drums.

Blake, Shepik and Tony S. do some effective soloing. Michael is bluesy and beyond, and the two guitarists shred, hammer and finesse with taste and good tone. The rhythm section keeps things close to the vest in an attractively loose way, then takes it out towards the end. Leader Peter contributes some not uninteresting solos here and there as well.

The compositions make this a distinctive date. Tempos are generally in the slower rock mode (but not everything) and set up appropriately the anthemic melodies and well-conceived chord changes for each piece.

In terms of overall thrust and a balance between piece and improvisation, this has affinities with middle-period Gary Burton. It does not sound like that however. After a few hearings I felt that the disk stood out sufficiently to be ranked among the best recent rock-oriented jazz of its kind. Good solos, interesting pieces, smart arrangements. A most pleasant surprise! Recommended.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil: Mural, 1999

When you think about it, compared to piano or tenor sax, there aren't all that many electric guitarists who play in the free improvisation zone. Not as many. This blog has covered most of them at one point or another. Not Bruce Eisenbeil. Until today. There's a very representative CD that's been out for a few years, Eisenbeil's Crosscurrent Trio and the album Mural (CIMP 194).

It's Bruce playing electric guitar (a Strat) in a trio with fellow travelers J. Brunka on contrabass and Ryan Sawyer, drums. It's a longish program of improvisations that have compositional frameworks by Eisenbeil. Brunka and Sawyer freely accompany what are pretty much guitar-centered performances.

Eisenbeil is less abstract and angular than Derek Bailey, less torrential than Joe Morris, less blisteringly dense (most of the time) than early Sonny Sharrock. Instead he combines chromatic and sometimes slightly diatonic lines with harmonically sophisticated chord sequencing (sometimes played with a rapid seres of strums) in a way that is linear yet not symmetrical. He plays with a fair amount of lower-end settings some of the time so that in those moments the sound is not bright. He also tends to play quietly on some numbers so that he sometimes ends up fairly low in the mix compared to bass and drums. Once your ears become accustomed to his sound, there is much inventive guitar work to be heard on this album.

This is not mellow music; nor is it particularly abrasive. What it is has such a singular thrust that you must listen attentively to get on its wavelength. Brunka and Sawyer are very open ended and sympathetic in helping to realize Bruce Eisenbeil's vision.

In the end what you get is not quite like anything else. Here is a guitarist that most definitely plays himself. Listen and you'll hear something different. Click the CIMP Records link for more information.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Decline of British Sea Power, Valhalla Dance Hall

Those who float their boat on the indie-alt rock sea know it is a vast body of water. I wouldn't venture to guess how many releases there are every month, but "many" would be an answer that would not be incorrect. To keep track of it all takes dedication. It would be a full-time job--and in fact it is that for some. I don't claim comprehensive knowledge. I do rely upon my ears to get acclimated to anything new, though.

The new release by the Decline of British Sea Power, Valhalla Dance Hall (Rough Trade), to my ears brings more thrust to the songwriting than was the case for the very first albums. Songs are more compact, symmetrical and accessible to a general alt crowd, I think.

There is the big wall of sound going on, guitar centered, which I find interesting. The lead guitarist has a melodic sense that goes beyond the lick stage by a good margin. Vocals remain at the distinctively alt-idiomatic level, where they've always been.

All in all, an attractive effort. They had a sound on their first albums; they have one now. It's a bit different--there's more of a pop-alt veneer, but the overall thrust continues to be quirky. It should float the boat of many listeners.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bassist-Composer Ron Anderson and His PAK Do "Secret Curve"

To say Ron Anderson and PAK must have rehearsed a little to get the music they do on Secret Curve (Tzadik 8079) would be to understate the situation. The music is filled with irregular figures, hairpin stop and go turns, ensemble synchronicity of a most intricate sort and all manner of asymmetrical burn-grooves. A first listen makes that plain.

Mr. Anderson does not set out to overwhelm with virtuoso hi jinks a la some of the more notorious speed fusers. Secret Curve begins and ends around the centrality of compositional thrust. The complexities are harnessed to Ron's musical vision, just like a fast movement in a classical symphony is indeed what it is, fast, because that is how the music moves, not because the music is second, that speed first.

Secret Curve highlights the playing of PAK, a trio of Ron on electric bass, Keith Abrams, drums, and Tim Byrnes on trumpet, French horn and keyboards. The music gets reinforcement and color-depth with the help of some key guests: Anthony Coleman on piano, Jerome Noetinger, electronics, Eve Risser, piano, Tom Swafford, violin, and Stefan Zeniuk on reeds.

The trio is at the heart of the music, though. Anderson's throttle bass has extraordinary moments of centered line building which get plenty of interpretive, complementary drive from Abrams' drums. Byrnes' horns and keyboard fill in with harmonic and melodic top-parts that have style and distinction. The ensemble expands and contracts with the entrance and exit of the guest performers.

This is a downtown thrash-jazz tour de force. There are not a lot of solos but rather ensemble excellence. The music expands upon the two Z's--Zappa and Zorn--at their most intricate and frenetic. In the end, though, the music has a Ron Anderson sound to it. This is HIS music. This is original music. This is exciting music.

Anderson plays some impressive bass. The entire ensemble excels in ever-building cascades of thrash ecstasy. The pieces bear up well under repeated listens. You should most definitely hear this one!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rez Abbasi, Things to Come, 2009

Readers of my blogs know that I do not restrict myself only to the very latest releases, the flavors of the month. The idea is that good and great music may not have been recorded and released yesterday, and so it is never a bad idea to consider something that's been out for a while.

Such a recording is guitarist Rez Abbasi's Things to Come (Sunnyside 1236). It's Rez on guitar with the nucleus of the Indo-Pak Coalition that has been so fruitful for all concerned: Rudresh Mahanthappa on alto, Vijay Iyer on piano, and Dan Weiss on drums. Also appearing on this album are Johannes Weidenmeuller on acoustic bass, Mike Block, cello, and some beautiful vocals by Kiran Ahluwalia.

A look at Google makes it clear this album has gotten quite a few reviews. So I wont belabor the obvious. What's important: the wide-ranging chromatic soloing by Rez, Rudresh and Vijay, Peter's rhythmically advanced drumming and Kiran's classical Indo-Pak oriented vocals. This is Indo-Pak fusion, which is to say it is informed by the classical South Asian tradition. "Informed" is probably a good word because Abbasi and company have very much incorporated that influence into their own way of playing and improvising. The compositions sometimes have the melodic motion of the Carnatic tradition, for example, but essentially with differing note-cells. That same can be said for the rhythm. This is first and foremost a modern jazz form, electric, fused. It is a wonderful showcase for the unique style of the principal soloists--Rez, Rudresh and Vijay--and a platform to incorporate Ms. Ahluwalia's angelic vocals.

It is essential listening if you want to know what modern jazz has going for it. Rez and company have carved out their own niche and it is a vital one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Keve Wilson's Pure Oboe in Album "Pure Imagination"

I do not ordinarily cover releases such as this one. But the playing is so nicely warm and lyrical that I have jumped into the music regardless. Pure Imagination (Composers Concordance 002) centers around the beautiful oboe playing of Keve Wilson. It's her album and she shines throughout. There are moments where her tone combined with acoustic guitar suggests Oregon. Other times the music is in a kind of mellow "easy listening" mode, with standards and rock-pop songs done in unique ways. Still other times Keve takes up some modern classical chamber musical miniature gems. And the version of "The Water is Wide" for oboe and acoustic guitar is another aspect, very beautifully done!

The arrangements are quite interesting, with things like whistling doubling the oboe part against piano accompaniment and cello support. It's too evolved and elaborated to fit in with new age music. Call it Keve Wilson music. She is a ravishingly expressive player. Keve music. That's what it is. Well done!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bann Quartet Debuts with "As You Like"

BANN stands for the first initials of the last names of the four members of this heavy-duty quartet: Seamus Blake (tenor), Jay Anderson (bass), Oz Noy (electric guitar), and Adam Nussbaum (drums). As You Like (Jazzeyes 010) announces their presence with some molto kick-tail artistry.

Seamus Blake is a tenor of great magnitude. If you don't already know his work, this is a good place to start. He's a prime exponent of the modern post-Trane tenor. Jay Anderson and Adam Nussbaum are ideal rhythm-team mates. They give the swing and rock grooves a real kick start. And Mr. Anderson's note choice is superb. Electric guitarist Oz Noy is so good I am almost speechless. Guitarists beware; here's somebody coming in from the wings that is fully formed (as from the head of Medusa as the saying goes). He's so good I'm wondering if it isn't John Scofield under a pseudonym? Well if I am wrong I am going to irritate Oz; if I am right I am running the risk of blowing Sco's cover. At any rate on slide, with the pick, whatever he is doing is powerful, soulful, and filled with excellent ideas.

The tunes are a excellent mix of reworked standards ("All the Things You Are" is given a most unusual arrangement), a rock classic (David Crosby's "Guinnevere," which will make you say "gee, that's a great tune to do this way"), Monk's "Played Twice," Joe Henderson's "Isotope" and a good helping of originals that give the band a chance to get into some fine solos and might have you whistling along after a few plays.

In short this is terrific, electrically charged modern jazz. Don't stop there Bann, do more! Hear As You Like and you'll no doubt be wanting more too. A long life to them, collectively and singly!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Boris Savoldelli's Biocosmopolitan Hits the Streets

There are vocalists who prefer to create their own musical worlds rather than get stuck in the crosstown traffic snarls of mainstream rush hour. If they are good they bring us something new. If they are really good they can bring us joy.

Boris Savoldelli follows his own muse. And he is really good at it. The new album, his third I believe, is his best yet. Biocosmopolitan (MoonJune 037) is what happens when the vocal brilliance of a Bobby McFerrin, Brian Wilson, Peter Gabriel, or Imogen Heap are transformed to Boris Salvoldelli's very original vision of what can be. And he makes it so. You get 16 very compelling tracks plus a bonus video.

This is vocal ensemble music for the most part, made by multiple tracking. Paolo Fresu joins on trumpet or fluegelhorn on two tracks; bassist Jimmy Haslip joins in on one cut; Boris adds his piano here and there; otherwise it's all vocals. His is a voice of great range and an unmistakable sound. Even more so his vocal arrangements are breathtaking--sometimes as a full band of vocalized instruments, sometimes as a Boris choir that jumps out of your speakers and captures your ears; sometimes both. His part-singing conception works beautifully. And he writes some very nice songs too.

It's progressive jazz, it's prog rock, it's whatever you want to call it, doesn't matter. It's beautiful. Check out his vocal version of the Hendrix group in all its parts on "Crosstown Traffic" for starters. Then explore the many captivating originals. The artistry is way up there on the Grego-meter. No hype. This is how I feel. There is the joy of singing, the exuberance, the craziness, and the sheer artistry of Boris here in abundance. It will grab you, if you are like me. Highly recommended.

You need to hear this. Seriously.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kathleen Kolman Sings "Dream On"

Singers? Sometimes many are chosen; few are called. The jazz world teams with new singers, hopeful, some very talented, some not as talented. Kathleen Kolman belongs to the first category. Her new album Dream On (Walkin' Foot) shows that. This album was her final project for her Masters in Music Education. That's interesting, but the music speaks for itself, as does her vocal style.

The album is a mix of standards, Brazilian classic bossa-sambas, an original and a version of Aerosmith's "Dream On." My youthful musical memories include a time when the jazz-rock interface was just beginning to come into being. Jazz vocalists--and even more so the middle-of-the-road offshoots of jazz vocalists--began trying to bring the rock-pop music of the day into their repertoire. Take even the best. Ella Fitzgerald was a master, of course, but she perhaps was not all that comfortable taking on a Beatles song. Others of lesser talent tried as well but there was a chasm between the vocal styles at that point. Generations came up who had been raised in a world where rock was ever-present. So we come to today and the idea of a singer like Ms. Kolman doing the Aerosmith perennial is not such a leap anymore. And she does a convincing job of it.

And it's not just that she comes out of a different world. She gets interesting arrangements going and sings in convincing ways no matter what kind of song she tackles. Things like Ivan Lin's samba "Somos Todos Iguais Nesta Noite" are perhaps her most convincing numbers. They drive with the lovely lilt that Ms. Kolman handles perfectly. But she has the extended phrasing nuances, the flexible voice color and the pitch control to hold her own on even something as weathered and storm-tossed as "The More I See You." Her original "Until the Very End" is memorable as well.

It's an album with real charm, nice arrangements and a vocalist seemingly with a deep commitment to her repertoire. Kathleen Kolman brings her effective interpretive talents to realize words and music in creative ways, ways that ring true.

I hope we hear more from her soon!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pooja Goswami Pavan Sings Classic Indian Ghazals

Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan is an enchanting classical Indian vocalist who currently calls Minnesota her home base. How Shall I Say? (Innova 232) is a captivating program of Ghazals performed in the Hindustani style.

The Ghazals are based on poetic texts ranging in time from the 18th century to the present day. They express the various refined emotional states typical of Indian classical music. Each Ghazal has a musical compositional element based on the forms of a particular rag. Three of the compositions are by Ms. Pavan herself.

These Ghazals are performed in a style that goes back to the twentieth-century master Indian vocalist Begum Akhtar. They are performed in the classical, almost timeless style of an earlier age. Overt vocal pyrotechnics are not at the forefront but instead a highly nuanced melding of text and an elaborate melodic singing style prevails. Dr. Pavan is accompanied sympathetically and movingly by some excellent Indian musicians on sarangi, harmonium and tabla.

I will come clean to say here that I have listened with care and rapture to some of India's greatest vocalists in recordings for many years. I do not have the knowledge of the adept. All I know is what I have heard in unmediated form. But based on that experience I can say truthfully that Pooja Goswami Pavan is an exquisite vocal master with a lovely expressive voice and an extraordinary facility with the phrasing and control of the complicated pitch sequences involved. She is relatively young so she will only get better, I should think.

In the meantime this is a valuable disk showing the sheer beauty of some wonderful Ghazals. It will be a disk I will treasure and come back to frequently as my life spins along. Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nathaniel Smith Quartet Debuts with Jon Irabagon

Nathaniel Smith, MUSICAL drummer. That's what I know from his recent debut as a leader of a fine quartet on a CD simply titled Nathaniel Smith Quartet (Fresh Sound New Talent 371). He is also thoroughly schooled in the modern jazz drumming tradition. He swings lightly but accentually; he shows a good feel for brushwork; he gets around his set to provide a lot of good sounds. His skills as a tunesmith are also first rate. Five of the seven pieces on the album are his. They provide distinctive feels, good lines, and very conducive frameworks for the improvisations they set up.

Nathaniel also shows himself a bandleader who can handpick a few choice colleagues to develop a group chemistry that goes well beyond the considerable individual skills involved. Jostein Gulbrandsen is a fine guitarist. His subtle comping and incisive solo style gives the band a personality that it would not have without him. He also writes two numbers for the set, both of interest. Bassist Mark Anderson is another good choice. He underscores the rhythmic-harmonic structures of the pieces with good sense, fine tone and rock solid swingtime. Then there is Jon Irabagon and his tenor. He most certainly is one of the important new voices on his instrument, as a member of Mostly Other People Do the Killing and as a leader in his own right on a number of impressive albums. He can be incredibly exhuberant and boisterous, but on this quartet date he harnesses the dynamo for a group give and take. It's another side of Jon you hear on this one, just a shade cooler but quite lucid, never at a loss for ideas.

So there you have it. The sum of all these parts is a very thoughtfully swinging modern session. Gulbrandsen's guitar solos stand out as exceptionally interesting and we get to see another side of Jon Irabagon. This is serious jazz from start to finish. No frills, no bull. It's one of the best of the loosely straightforward improvisational sessions I've heard so far this year.

Congrats to Nathaniel Smith and his bandmates on this one!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guitarist Todd Clouser's A Love Electric

Guitarist Todd Clouser has assembled a crack outfit that includes trumpet man Steve Bernstein for his third outing as a leader.

Todd Clouser's A Love Electric (Ropeadope) draws on a jazz-fusion, jazz-rock orientation for a personal blend of sounds that brings in a retro Fender Rhodes-organ centered groove rock that doesn't balk at taking things a little out when the spirit moves. His relocation to Baja Mexico in 2006 after a stint at Berklee has enabled him to come to terms with his own musical vision without the pressure to follow trends or spend most of his time in the scuffle to stay afloat.

What he most certainly done is to free himself up to return to his initial fascination for the electric sound colors that players like Hendrix and Jimmy Page made such an important part of the vocabulary of the electric guitar in the late'60s-early '70s. He goes his own way with those inspirations, injects a healthy dose of the soul-jazz from that era, and works well with Mr. Bernstein as a two-man front line that provides contrast and grits in equal measure.

The originals are good forward-moving vehicles for the musical gymnastics and grooves that take place here.

All in all a solid effort; a pleasure to hear.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Serious Folly" from NHIC's Erasmus Quintet

The New Haven Improvisers Collective have been going their own way, guiding their own destiny for a number of years. They hold forth from their headquarters in Connecticut with live performances that feature an ever-shifting cast of local freely inspired music makers, as well as an ambitious series of recordings on their NHIC Records.

The latest is a paired-down quintet, the Erasmus Quintet to be precise, in a program of guided free improvisations released as Serious Folly (NHIC 004).

The absence of drums and bass makes this perforce a kind of chamber jazz outing. The music is given direction by the loose compositional frameworks constructed for each of the nine relatively short to mid-length pieces. Most of them have been penned by NHIC founder and guitarist Bob Gorry who takes a hand in the proceedings along with fellow guitarist Jeff Cedrone, Adam Matlock on accordion and clarinet, Paul McGuire on alto and soprano sax, and Stephen Zieminski on electric mallet percussion and keys.

As with previous NHIC ensemble recordings this one features a delightful sort of DIY seat-of-the-pants improvising style. The typical musical vocabulary of free jazz or the avant garde is jettisoned in favor of an intuitive folk-like attention to collective melody weaving. Most of the pieces proceed with a kind of five-way improvised, pulsating counterpoint.

It is challenging music that like Erasmus's famous Renaissance essay "In Praise of Folly" takes some pleasure in clearing the way of the accretions of detritus, for the present case in the practice of the art of improvising. These are musicians that stubbornly carve out roughly hewn blocks of new musical structure and content.

They sound especially persuasive in this smaller-unit recording. May they continue their trailblazing for many years to come!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Guitarist Chris Crocco and Fluid Trio+

Chris Crocco manages to put forward a formidable contemporary post-bop guitar approach that does not sound like anyone else's in any obvious way. That so many have been influenced is common; that someone potentially could be an influence is most definitely not. His tone is pure more than mellow, as it dispenses with the heavy neck-pickup saturation favored traditionally by many mainstreamers, and his line work is well conceived and flowing.

Crocco's Fluid Trio made an album several years ago that I am sorry to have missed. It had the initial trio lineup of Boston tenor titan George Garzone and Francisco Mela on the drums, the latter a Cuban expatriate who has been deservedly getting some attention out there and currently is a member of McCoy Tyner's outfit. The "plus" in the new edition of the Fluid gathering is bassist Peter Slavov, who adeptly brings the time and bottom anchorage to the band's excursions so that they can swing harder and imply more direct harmonic movement, and they take advantage.

So there you have some of foundation knowledge on Chris's latest release, simply titled The Chris Crocco Fluid Trio+ (CPA Records). It's an all-Crocco-originals date, ten of them to be precise, and that turns out to be a very good thing because he writes some engaging and varied vehicles for the band. Everyone gets solo time and it is time well spent; there's a very good mix of feels and swinging grooves. It is Chris Crocco himself that is pivotal to this date however. The group chemistry is palpably present at all points, but Mr. Crocco's sophisticated, sharply biting yet fully linear guitarwork captures and captivates thoughout most of all.

A fine effort . I hope there will be many more from them in the years ahead.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Godz' Contact High Reissued

There is an art to being rather awful. If you can be awful in a way that is actually good, you've achieved the level of art. The obvious examples would be in the proto-punk groups like the Seeds and Quotation Mark and the Mysterians, both groups that managed to make ten-thumb instrumentality and adenoidal vocals into something transcendent.

While such groups were wallowing on the charts and scoring a hit or two, there was the underground version of such bad-as-good aesthetics. The Fugs, of course, made a point of being a poetic parody of bad rock. Then there was the Godz, whose 1966 Contact High brought the genre to new lows-highs. That album, in all 25 minutes of glory, is the latest reissue in ESP's revival (ESP 1037).

I first heard the Godz on my mother's FM radio. It was when underground radio found a home for a time on that frequency set (and I suppose in some ways it's still alive if you look for it). WBAI had a hip afternoon show and I remember distinctly they played "White Cat Heat" from the Contact album. It's some psaltery and guitar thrumming, bass blurts and the band representing vocally a lively cat fight in some would-be alley. It's probably their very best cut--a mini-theater of the absurd. Well of course "White Cat Heat" is a part of the reissue and it still sounds sublimely ridiculous. For the rest there is some hippie jug-band folkishness, some more or less sincere attempts to put forward a song or two, a Hank Williams "cover" and a few more freak outs.

This was an album only ESP would have put out at the time and it is a piece of underground history of the NY scene in 1966. I do not judge it harshly because I think that the jug-junk-band psychedelia put forward on the disk is still charming. Larry Kessler's electric bass playing is some of the very worst I've ever heard. So bad in fact it is good (almost). He's playing a Gibson through some tube amp and the strings sound detuned to the point where his attacks on the strings give out a sound like a jugband jug or a washtub bass in distress.

I find it a kind of landmark in anti-slick pop irony. The Fugs might have done it better but the Godz have the distinction of doing it worse. That is an achievement. Only Whitewood is more consistently god-awful, and their album has been out of print for a long time. So here's your chance to dig something that was intended to turn the pop world upside down. That it didn't quite do that is further indication of their "success."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Many Arms: Power Trio on Steroids and Ten Pots of Espresso?

Many Arms? And some legs too. Many Arms uses six arms and at least two legs to create a blazing avant scronk super-progressive speed metal (without the exorcist element) that's powerful and intricate. It's the guitar-bass-drums power trio configuration laying down a 43 minute onslaught of thrash and energy avant on their CD Missing Time (Engine 2010).

Many Arms to be more specific is Nick Millevoi on guitars, John Deblase, bass, and Ricardo Lagomasino on drums. They start in a mode that suggests the psychedelic pre-Mahavishnu McLaughlin and take off from there on a series of noteful, synchronized, chromatic rug burns of speed, stop-start routines and bracingly expressive line twisting. It's music that generally gets set to high and stays there much of the time. Something fast, frenetic, expressionist and very electric is what to expect. Unlike some of their more staid and arena-heat-seeking brethren, they often imply a time or even go beyond time and dispense with the regimentation of rock beats, back beats or even machine-gun double bass drum tatoos. Nick's guitar work is chromatically charged metal that opens up to more advanced harmonic-melodic implications of metal chromaticism--and in that way early Rypdal comes to mind as (again) early McLaughlin. The sound is quite raw, overamped and jagged like broken glass. So there is identity there. Bass and drums do a great job working out the edgy routines and in-the-face pies of free energy.

Many Arms may not appeal to those who seek some "easy" music to hear. This isn't. It's exhilarating, outside and unrelentingly uncompromising. It does what it does (or rather THEY do) with confidence and conviction. At least that's what comes across to me. The late Captain Beefheart would have appreciated this, though they enter his particular realm only obliquely.

Gol damn, though, this is some hot shoot. Get it, turn it up, amaze your neighbors, get evicted. All with a smile on your face.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lunatic Soul II: Music from Some Unknown Ethnic Group in Space?

Lunatic Soul is a creative enclave with Riverside principal/lead singer Mariusz Duda as the primary driving force. Like Peter Gabriel and Dead Can Dance, Lunatic Soul creates a spacey pulsating ambiance that is like some modern-day ethnic music from a peoples yet unidentified. Or as Mariusz puts it, "trance-like... oriental-alternative" music.

All this can be heard and felt on the new release Lunatic Soul II (K-Scope 161). This is reflective, intelligent post-prog in the manner of the best of such music. Duda's voice is expressive and dead center in a musical way. The instrumental arrangements are modern and vibrant in the best sense. It sounds like the music of the future. Walls-of-sound of distinctive rock reverberance, hand drums and eastern tonalities, poetic lyricism, this is music to live inside, a world unto itself.

Besides that it's a hell of a good listen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Joe Morris' Solo Bass: "Sensor"

Joe Morris has musicianship to spare. A guitarist on the frontiers of the new jazz, he is also an accomplished contrabassist. So accomplished in fact that he recently did an album of unaccompanied solo improvisations, Sensor (No Business NCLP 27). It's a vinyl LP (a trend I do not find unwelcome incidentally), so the playing time comes in around 35 minutes, and that feels just right.

I do not intend it as a slight when I say that Mr. Morris is probably the best acoustic bassist in the history of improvised music among those who take up the bass as a second instrument. These sorts of comparisons are not terribly illuminating but it gives you some idea what I think of his playing.

To tackle an unaccompanied solo bass album is nervy I suppose, but Joe comes through with a performance that is not only not uninteresting, it is technically proficient and dynamic.

Joe starts off the album with his bass sounding like a Burundian trough zither--earthy, accentuated, punctuated in a freely soulful way. He goes on to bow and pizz his way through extended, long-lengthed line construction in the Joe Morris manner. As with his guitar work, he is never at a loss when constructing a smoothly executed, harmonically extended chromatic phrase.

This is improvised bass music of depth. It is not meant to be a tour de force of pyrotechnical prowess because that's not what Joe is about. Matter-of-factly direct. Avant. This is my music, he seems to be saying. This is what I do.

If you want to hear a player who has forged his playing style out of the force of his musical will, Joe Morris is your man. And Sensor is your album. It's a most pleasant surprise for those like myself that didn't quite expect it. And it will appeal to those who revel in the sonority of the contrabass in a free mode.