Thursday, June 30, 2011

Base 3: Serious Space Jams On "Live From Planet Earth"

Base 3 kick up plenty of dust on their second CD, Live From Earth (1K 017), featuring two generous sets of very spacey music. Base 3 is Tim Motzer on baritone guitar, Barry Meehan, bass, and Doug Hirlinger at the drums.

This is impromptu psychedelia at its best. Doug's drums put solid footing underneath the cosmic ambiance. He sometimes gets into choppy staccato funk things that readily identify him as original. Barry's bass functions often as a second solo-space voice, more so than a full-time riff factory and that frees up the music considerably. Tim gets maximum stellar drive going with Floydish mother-ship aeronautics, high-sustain melodics, cosmic hammerings-on and musical sequences of high interest.

This is music to mellow into, then set sail for the heart of the sun. What's most impressive is how they can keep interest high with the things they come up with. They don't repeat themselves and they keep to a mood and develop it nicely over long stretches.

One of the best set of space jams I've heard in a long time. Recommended!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ark Ovrutski and his Sounds of Brasil CD

Ark Ovrutski, bassist, rooted in Russian, Ukranian, and New York City culture. . . .So why does he do a Brazilian flavored jazz album, Sound of Brazil (Self-Produced)? Why does anybody do anything? He's into the style is the obvious answer. What counts is the music, of course.

So he got together with drummer Duduka da Fonseca and put together a nice quintet of Brazilian and American musicians, namely Craig Handy (flute, alto, tenor), Jorge Continentino (flutes, tenor, bari), and Helio Alves (piano). They amassed some hip tunes and arrangements and. . . well there you have it. Duduka, Helio and Ark have much to do with getting a samba groove going and then the reeds get their solo shots (along with good piano and bass solo slots). Everything gels. If this sometimes sounds more like the Corea ventures into samba territory than, say, the Zimbo Trio, that can be understood. There are Afro-Latin elements (quasi-Tyner-esque?) in the rhythm department too, but that fits in fine.

This is an album that gets in good solo time, gets a Brazilian-American groove hopping with a modern jazz looseness, and pleases without pandering.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sheryl Bailey 4: Potent Guitar On "For All Those Living"

Many guitarists vie for our attention in the world we live in today. Sheryl Bailey warrants it. The debut of her working quartet on For All Those Living (Pure Music 5111) finds her in very good company, playing well-conceived straight-ahead music in a post-Wes Montgomery niche. Jim Ridl sounds excellent on piano and works well with Sheryl. The rhythm section of Gary Wang on bass and Shingo Okudaira, drums, propels the music along nicely. Sheryl's all-originals set shows too that she wields a tastefully discriminating pen with tunes that are very right for what the quartet is about.

It's Sheryl's ringing, yet burnished tone and her swingingly smart line weaving that get my attention on this one. She has poise, polish, and the excitement of well-chosen phrases that swing. She is young and we can I hope look forward to many years ahead where she further develops her style. She is certainly someone to watch--and to listen to!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Le Trio Joubran Redefine Oud Artistry Today On "As Far"

The new album by the brothers Joubran, As Far (World Village WVF015), reaffirms that they are at the very pinnacle of Mid-Easterm music ensembles practicing today. On the level of oud artistry they are exceptional. The improvisatory passages are sublime, their ensemble music both of today and a product of a tradition that receives new life in their hands. Yousef Hbeisch makes excellent contributions in the percussion zone and for this album they are joined by guest vocalist Dhafer Youssef for some appropriate additional dimensions in key spots.

This is an ensemble of potent drive and quiet ruminescence. It is essential listening.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guitarist Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord Hold Forth with Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers!

Hip guitar-stringer and composer of melifuidity Jon Lundbom comes at us again with a welcome new offering, Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! (Hot Cup 104). It's his Big-Five Chord aggregation again, with Mostly Other People Do the Killing members--bassist Moppa Elliott, and the alto-sopranino of Jon Irabagon. Then there's Bryan Murray on tenor and "balto!" sax (?), Danny Fischer, drums, and the guest appearance of Matt Kanelos on keys.

It is ensemble music of a definite currency. Adventurous, a bit electric, loping, freestyling and rocking along with some very interesting lines and excellent solos from the principals.

Lundbom has a definitely-subtly-quirky sense of what goes with what (that he in part shares with his MOPDTK colleagues). It comes out in his pieces as well as his solos and it is most refreshing to hear. It's downtown in its own way, without staying on any particular block for very long, though.

And there's a sense of wackiness that is refreshing. What else? Well it's engaging music. That should be enough to wet your whistle. Listening will make your whistle that much the wetter! So I do recommend you take steps accordingly.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

USA Is A Monster's Last: RIP

We've just dealt with Colin L.'s first solo effort after the demise of USA is A Monster. Today we look at that band's last, RIP (Northern-Spy). I peeked at the press sheet accidentally and saw that somebody said "Banal? Sure, but..." something like banal-good. Banal-good? Yes. It in some ways, at least in the opening minutes, sort of takes Van Dyke Park-Brain Wilson's Americana lyrics from Smile and makes them snide. And musically there is some relation too. What the relation is would be something you might explore if you were to listen to the album a bunch of times.

Beyond that, there is an indefinable something about this music, much like Colin L.'s album only perhaps slightly less so, something that hits you like an out-of-control Frisbee you didn't expect somebody to throw at you, and neither did the dog. I hope that makes it perfectly clear what we have here.

It's musically intricate and rather thoroughly off kilter. Now I know some of you. like me, respond to this sort of thing. Thank you Northern-Spy for putting this kind of stuff out.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Neil Young DVD: Here We Are in the Years, Neil Young's Music Box

Neil Young has gained great success at the same time as he has followed his own muse. Rock, folk, country, electronic and otherwise, he has never been content to rest within a particular style. For more than 40 years he has exemplified the artist-as-seeker, the human musical force who can and does recreate his musical identity with every new album.

There's a new two-hour documentary DVD that captures pretty well the many influences and stylistic forces at play in Neil's long career. Here We Are In the Years: Neil Young's Music Box (Sexy Intellectual SIDVD 565) is a more-or-less chronological look at Neil Young's music biography from his teen years in Canada through the '90s. Interviews with friends and associates, some concert footage, and discussions by music journalists spice the narrative. This is an independent production coming out of England, so we do not get much in the way of personal commentary by Neil Young himself, and that is a bit of a pity.

However what we do get is an in-depth look at the various influences that have acted upon Neil's musical sensibility and in turn his creative response to them. One factor that emerges clearly is that Neil Young's early years in Canada helped shaped him in ways that perhaps an artist in England or the US might not have experienced. So for example Neil was influenced by the British instrumental group the Shadows as much or more so than some of the instrumental groups that were enjoying success in the US at the time. That he also apparently highly appreciated the Tex-Mex Fireballs group is another interesting factor that would perhaps not be typical of a budding musician in the Northeast USA. At any rate the documentary gives a detailed look at Young's exposure to Roy Orbison, the US and Canadian folk scene, the British Invasion and his dual allegiance to the melodic Beatles and harder rocking Stones, and on from there.

Anyone with a serious interest in Neil Young's music would find this DVD illuminating. The lack of commentary from Young himself does detract a bit from the impact of the discussion, but in no way seriously impedes a rather insightful look inside the creative mind of one of rock's masterbuilders. Recommended.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Seabrook Powerplant II Continues Where The First Volume Left Off!

The manic energy of Seabrook Powerplant is not of the ordinary sort. It is supercharged. Whether picking, plucking or bowing his tenor banjo, Brandon Seabrook usually goes for maximum velocity. On the first album the trio with Jared Seabrook on drums and Tom Blancarte on bass emphasized and reinforced the breakneck improvisations of Brandon. Seabrook Powerplant II (Loyal Label LLVL009-LP/LLCD009-CD) brings in more compositional elements and finds the group building lines, textures and speed blocks in more of a three-way collaboration.

They still have exultant moments of power thrash and it still sometimes sounds as if we are Waiting for the Robert E. Lee somewhere in hell, but you will not find anything like it out there, certainly not involving a tenor banjo (though he plays a bit of guitar as well). It's music of the edge. More importantly it is very well done. Anyone with a sense of adventure and an electric ethos should find him or herself responding to this one.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Colin L. Orchestra Out of This World with Double CD "Infinite Ease-Good God"

Sometimes you hear things that are so peculiar, so off their rocker in an unusual way, you have to redefine what your expectations should be. Colin L. and his Colin L. Orchestra, most specifically on his new double CD Infinite Ease/Good God (Northern Spy) most definitely did that to me.

What about the lyrics? You go along with the expectation of some message or other, then you get something like "Covered in crud is a friend of mine." They are hyper-real, surreal, dada-like and such-like all at the same time.

And this goes with a kind of densely conceived and/or bare bones psychedelic country rock sensibility. It's funny, serious, irreverent and meta-music in the best sense. His vocals can soar or just goof around; instrumentally something is always happening. It's as if The Notorious Byrd Brothers spent all this time in hell and came back to make a chart-worthy album, only since they've been in hell they bring a hell of a lot of weirdness back with them. Well maybe that description doesn't quite work but it's as close as I can get to what I get hearing this one.

It's awful great. It's greatly awful. Get it and you'll get it. I hope.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Rural Alberta Advantage, "Departing," for A Direct Jolt of Song

The Rural Alberta Advantage's second album, Departing (Saddle Creek), is one direct, continuous infusion of indie rock song, no pretentions, no pretexts. Nils Edenhoff puts together the songs, sings them in a young indie sort of voice, and strums the guitar effectively. The rest of the band is there adding keys, drums and backing vocals.

It's their second. It's good like their first was. It is no more than it is. It is no less. You can depend on that. Oh yeah, and they are part of a Canada thing too. That's cool.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Johannes Moller, Promising Young Classical Guitarist, and His Recital Disk Debut

Johannes Moller, as the front cover of his CD tells us, was the 2010 winner of the Guitar Foundation of America Competition. Listening to his debut Guitar Recital (Naxos 8.572715) it is not hard to see why.

Most of the works performed in this compilation require considerable technical facility. But as is almost invariably the case, that technique must be harnessed to the expressive needs of the melodic-harmonic countors of the piece. So for example the rolling tremelo of the melody line of Mangore's "En Sueno en la Foresta" must be balanced and made one with the very different accompanying figure. Moller handles such passages with disarming ease, as he does many similar phrasing quandaries in the brilliant pieces included here. So it is with the Villa Lobos "Etudes" which I remember my roomate George gradually mastering over many week's time years ago. It's not of course just a matter of getting the notes right and the timing down; all the disparate parts must flow together as one. And so it is also with Leo Brouwer's gorgeous "Sonata."

Johannes Moller is the complete virtuoso. He makes the complicated sound natural, musical, a part of the total thrust of the musical piece at hand. This maturity of phrasing seems to me rather remarkable for so young a player. In any event the recital is a glowing success, with performances any guitar afficionado will be thrilled to hear again and again. Recommended!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ana Moura Live: "Coliseu" Showcases the Fado Songbird

I am tempted to begin with the statement that vocalist Ana Moura is a Portuguese National Treasure. That would be a bit cliche but not untrue. Her voice exudes the warmth and beauty of a master-singer, and such she is. The musical art form of Fado goes back centuries. Her advent ensures that it will not be disappearing any time soon. It's a song form for voice and string instruments, with lyrics filled with an exquisite melancholy that can be savored like a fine port. In the hands of a singer like Ana Moura the feelings and expressiveness of the voice brings the meaning of the worlds even to those who do not know the language. She is one-in-a-generation in her vocal artistry.

Nowhere is this more clear than on her new live CD Coliseu (World Village 468103) Beautiful songs, beautiful singing, beautiful guitar accompaniment, and the immediacy of an intimate live engagement.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Patty Ascher Sings On "Bossa, Jazz, 'n' Samba"

Back when M.O.R. designated music that wasn't rock, wasn't country, jazz or R&B, but was music that was generally made for folks who had grown up in the swing era and wanted something that soothed the nerves, there were many releases taking on the superficial semblance of the new Patty Ascher album Bossa, Jazz 'n' Samba (Zoho 201103). That is, take a mellow female vocalist, add a lushly arranged carpet of strings and a mildly pulsating rhythm section, then provide listeners with pop-standards fare that might be gently melancholic, regretful, something to make the martinis go down easier.

At the same time, there was a body of bossa nova music coming out of Brazil. The music had much in common with M.O.R. except the rhythmn section was geared to the new beat as it were, a kind of gentle samba. Then too there was a body of songwriters, singers and arrangers that gave the music a distinctiveness that took it pretty far beyond the easy listening moniker.

Patty Ascher's album comes out of that. Her voice is nuanced and silky. The rhythm section has a latin-bossa touch, the arrangements are lush but harnessed to the bossa style mostly, and the songs, most by Patty and her musical partner Marco Pontes, have a definite heft to them.

It's quite nice listening and Ms. Ascher's voice has definite charm.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Shredding Metal Guitar in Modern Classical Music? Yes! Georges Lentz's "Ingwe"

With the advent of the fully cranked metal guitar as played by various luminaries from Hendrix to Van Halen and beyond, with the help of their handmaidens the electrical engineers who developed amplifier, stomp box, and guitar electronic technology to where it is today, it was inevitable that the sonic arsenal such players could unleash be utilized for forms of music beyond rock. Of course jazz fusion incorporated the sound possibilities early on, and people such as Terje Rypdal pioneered the use of highly sustained sound in works of a classical nature.

And so we live in a time when the release of Georges Lentz's Ingwe (Naxos 8.572483) not only does not shock, it seems quite natural. What we have is a recording of a full length piece for solo electric guitar, played with a bit of dash and flair by Zane Banks. It is, as you have gathered, a work that makes full use of the sounds and techniques of heavy metal guitarcraft.

There are sections of relative quiet; there are sections of bravadosian crank; there are passages somewhere in between. I am not entirely sure that what we have here is a masterpiece, but it does make excellent use of the shred style for a long formed piece of great atmosphere. It should appeal to those who hear the idea and say to themselves, "what a cool thing to do!" If your reaction to the concept is something other than that you may find yourself better looking elsewhere for some musical stimulation. Kudos for Lentz and Banks!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Charito's "Heal the World"

There are sorts of music that I am not especially predisposed to like. Like the one up today. It's some arranged, jazzed versions of Michael Jackson songs. Namely Charito's Heal the World (Soho 201104).

But it's good! Harvey Mason produced it, got some very good arrangers and instrumentalists together (like Hubert Laws, Azar Lawrence) and gave singer Charito an effective backdrop for her song interpretations.

And it works. Charito's voice comes on as sultry and powerfully projecting in alternation. The arrangements get the world-funk thing in there along with a cosmopolitan jazz/r&b flair. They are a joy to hear (seriously). It has what this sort of remake should have to work: a lingering look at the songs as songs, vocal artistry and arrangements that refresh the material and bring new life to it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Guitarist Matt Stevens' Latest, "Ghost"

Every so often an artist contacts me and sends me something good I would not have otherwise been able to hear. Matt Stevens is one such. He's a guitarist over in England and his new one, Ghost (self-released) has a very nice feel to it. It features Matt mostly on acoustic, with light percussion or sometimes a rock rhythm section. He has a modern sense of melodic contour that reminds me a little of Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists and the California Guitar Trio, only it's pared down, more intimate at times, and it has Matt Steven's own sensibility in it. Nice playing and nice arranging are to be found here.

It's an h of a good listen. Trance, minimalism, psychedelics, quirky melodizing and some rhythm guitar almost out of Sonic Youth make this both fun and hip. And it's all put together in a way that sticks in your head as a definite breath of cool air. Check it out by Googling "Matt Stevens Ghost."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Alela Diane & Wild Divine Put Across Some Interesting Songs

Alela Diane writes songs and sings them with her band Wild Divine, which includes husband and also father, so its a family deal at least in part. She wrote the songs on the new album, simply titled Alela Davis & Wild Divine (Rough Trade) while on the road in 2009.

If I were to tell you she kind of reminds me of a female Neil Young in the folk-country rock zone, I would need to qualify that with the idea that her songs have earthiness and an honest directness, they have a musical richness-in-simplicity too. All of that reminds me of Neil Young. But that doesn't mean if you put her music on your system you'd think, "right, a woman version of Neil Young," because she doesn't sound like him.

I won't rattle on this morning. I will say that Alela Diane has talent and she writes good songs. There you are, if you care to go with it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Lou Volpe, Jazz Guitar Stylist of Note, Steps Out With "Hear and Now"

It occurred to me as I sat listening to Lou Volpe's solo effort Hear and Now (Jazz Guitar 070) that the reason the playing sounded so familiar to me, so almost GENERIC, was that Lou had been on so many sessions that I had internalized his sound without thinking of the WHO in the playing, that I had become intimately familiar with his playing without associating it with a name. Lou Volpe's played with everybody, and he's played with everybody else too. Here's a cat who has done session after session without really stepping out into the spotlight, more or less until now.

And I must say I find it gratifying to hear him in a setting where it's just him and a quartet, all of whom are there to play--one nice quartet, too. It's good to hear Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, sounding great, and the two-man rhythm team of Bob Cranshaw on bass and Buddy Williams, drums, is rock-solid, as you would expect.

The fare is contemporary hard post-bop, modern mainstream and some funk numbers. The latter was the bread-and-butter of many a session over the years, of course, and one must expect it, especially since what Lou does is pure Lou. Personally I may not always respond to the style as much as I might have in the past, but the point is what Lou does with it, and that is the interesting part.

On the whole this is one of those records that takes a middle-of-the-road approach to the music and so may appeal to a wider audience, yet it also showcases some very fine players. If you want to know why Lou has been so busy over the years, here is the musical reason--impeccably phrased bluesy-boppy runs with rhythmic vitality and beautiful comping, a sound that is a little earthier than the typical jazz guitar tone, and exceptional taste in note choice. That's Lou. Hear Lou now by checking out the disk.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius and Heard: Karibu

Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius. Composer, pianist, vocalist, putter-together of world, jazz, and compositional traditions to make it all sound new. Her album with Heard, Karibu (Heard Music HP-1010) has a different slant. It's a kind of mellow African-Latin blend of gently pulsing percussion,Jonathan Green's pelucid clarinet, John Ehlis on guitar and mandolin, the flute of Rebecca Kleinmann, plus bass, two percussion and two cello. Oh and of course Elizabeth herself on keys and vocals. They take what still is called ethnic music in some circles and turn it into an almost ECM-like jazz-classical hybrid.

It's a recording that fails to summon lengthy discourses from my typing fingers. Not this morning. Something this laid-back music is meant for is quiet listening, not a lot of words. It's most certainly interesting music and I suspect lots of people who might not enjoy some of the more earthy things from which this music derives will find Karibu a congenial listen. Kudos to Elizabeth and her clarinetist Jonathan Green.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Information Superhighway, Great Prog Band, Offers Free Live Album Download

There may be no such thing as a free lunch but there are musicians and bands out there that want you to hear their music and are letting you download some great stuff for free. Chicago's Information Superhighway is one of those bands. I reviewed their last album, This is Not the Ending on these pages a while ago (do a search and you'll find the article). The free live album is them in a looser framework, well recorded in July of 2009, and it's some fabulous music.

How to describe? Well they have a free-prog sort of outlook, with an excellent female vocalist, very good songs, and two good soloists on the keys and guitar. The rhythm section is very hip with all kinds of kicks and jolts during the song routines and solos. I suppose that tells you nothing, really, though, because it is the quality of the singing, the freshness of the songs and the collective strengths of the band giving a very excellent accounting of themselves that hit you on several listens. This is a band you must hear if you are into the prog-fuse nexus. Some label ought to sign them. If they would listen to this live session, perhaps they would!

Grab the download at

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Northern-Spy's "Clandestine" Series of Cassette Releases, Number One

Today we have something different. Different than what? In a way everything I cover on these pages is something at least a little different, otherwise why cover it? But the Northern-Spy Clandestine Series, Number One is different even by the usual yardsticks.

It is post-whatever (you fill in the term) music. There are four pieces by four artists. It is released as a 150 copy run on cassette (and I am sorry to say that the cassette is already sold out, but the download as MP3 or FLAC is still available). It is music that has an electric and even electronic flavor to it. There are twenty-something minutes of music total. It flies by and there is no wasted space.

Who are the artists? They are bonifide members of today's underground scene. Yes, there is one. Messages is an electronic conflagration that gives you some atmospherics that in part sound like retro commentary on '50s electronic music (and I do like that). There's guitarist Tom Carter doing a psychedelic sort of soundscape. There's Zaimph (Marcia Bassett) doing a droner thing and someone the press release assures me is an "avant folk" legend, one Loren Connors (and since I don't get the chance to do much avant folk listening, much as I'd like to, that is cool with me) in duet with bassist Margarida Garcia.

What matters as ever is the music. And this is DIFFERENT music. It is a good listen. Recommended.