Monday, October 31, 2011

AOMusic, "....and Love Rages On!": Music for Another New World

Some CDs come in the mail and you open them up and ask yourself, "what the hell is it?" Very few get the kind of "what the hell is it?" reiteration as they are first playing on my music system. AOMusic's ...And Love Rages On (AO Music 0907) got that reaction from me. So what is it, then? It's various children's choirs and vocalists from over the world and quasi-world-ethnic percussion and strings joined with various world musicians, etc. doing some very unique sounding music. It's too good to be new age. It's not jazz, not pop, not anything but a sort of new world music. The ensemble Dead Can Dance is about as close as I can come to the "sort of like" category, but it is not the same exactly, either.

It is very captivating. Richard Gannaway (vocals & string instruments), Jay Oliver (keyboards, synths, samples) and Miriam Stockley (vocals) are the people behind the music. This is their third album. I will not try to describe the music further. It's very beautiful. Try to hear some of it it and you'll see what I mean.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slivovitz, "Bani Ahead": A Crack Jazz-Rock Outfit from Napoli in Their Second Outing

Today a very cool effort from the Napoli jazz-rock-fuze combo Slivovitz, Bani Ahead (Moon June 039). This has compositional-arranged goodness and solos with bite, in a Zorn-Zappa meets a mid-eastern mode, Slivovitz-style. It's a seven-man band: D. Angarano, bass guitar, D. Di Perri, harmonica, M Giannini, electric guitar, S. Rainone, drums, C. Riccardi, trumpet, P. Santangelo, tenor and soprano, R. Villari, violin.

This second album for the band comes through as only something a very seasoned, well rehearsed and well-gigged band could do. They are tight and musically integrated. This is all-original music penned by various band members. The music is strong, driving and unique, with the minor mode predominating, and front line voicings in deft counterpoint with the leveraged rhythm team. Solos are strong and set off the arranged material nicely.

It's a definite corker of an album! Like the other Moon June recording artists Moraine (whose new album I reviewed on this site yesterday), Slivovitz come up with another new way to be new. There is lots of excellent music to be had on Bani Ahead. Grab a copy or get more info on the Moon June site listed in the link section.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Steve Howe's Remedy Live, Well-Captured on DVD Release

Steve Howe with Yes over the years defined a way to play in a largely conceived, almost orchestral prog context. He could be flashy but mostly he was distinctive in sound and very musical in the parts he developed for himself. The Steve Howe of his own group Remedy continues and extends that legacy in ways that go beyond Yes while still keeping to the initial impetus and sound he made such an important part of the overall ambiance.

Steve Howe's Remedy Live (MVD Visual 5252D) presents Howe and company in an extended concert footage DVD. It features his five-piece outfit (with his two sons on keys and drums, respectively) running through the repertoire of originals and some classic Yes numbers in 2004. The DVD also features a short solo acoustic set and good footage of Howe and band members in rehearsal and talking about the tour.

The sound is offered in the 5:1 option or as conventional stereo and it is very good.

It's certainly a disk that Steve Howe fans will appreciate. And it will give you some good ensemble and guitar work to get with if you have not followed Howe's career in any detail.

It's a thorough gas and a prog rock document of some importance. Give it a spin and dig on some fine sounds.

Moraine, Metamorphic Rock: The Band in Good Form Live at NEARFest, 2010

Moraine's first album showed the world they were a very smart prog/fuze outfit that offered a sound alternative to the usual ways of being new. Dennis Rea's torrid guitar styling led the way for a kind of great adventure in electric sound that drove home the idea that Moraine had an original vision and were well on their way to putting it forward for the world to dig.

Their subsequent 2010 appearance at NEARFest was well-captured and we now have what they played there on the new CD Metamorphic Rock (Moon June 040). This is especially strong as a all-band effort, with solid compositions by Dennis Rea and other band members and some interesting adaptations of traditional and contemporary world music. The instrumentation of electric guitar, baritone-winds, violin, eight-string bass, and drums is used to excellent effect in ways that make for an even more identifiable sound this time out.

The music generally is more sonorous and less edgy in this go-round, but no less original. It shows once again that Moraine is a band to follow closely in the years to come. And it's a terrific listen as well! Very much recommended.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fractale, "Suranne": Horn-Centered Prog EP

French saxologist Julian Julien and his bandmates in Fractale have put together a live EP offering called Suranne (A Bout de Son). It's a guitarless, bassless grouping of three saxes, two trumpets, one tuba and drums. Occasionally there's a synthesizer sound in there as well.

They achieve an interesting, composition-arrangement based prog rock/jazz rock that manages to achieve a drive and density one usually associates with the guitars and electric bass configuration. It has a King Crimson, Zappa, Magma sort of feel to it, though there is a distinctively original sound in the end. Improvisation is minimalized in favor of an ensemble presentation.

It's different. It remains to be heard where they would go beyond this 27-minute EP. A promising beginning! Hear some samples at

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Abe Schwartz, "The Klezmer King," Columbia Legacy CD

Abe Schwartz (1881-1963) was in the 1920s New York's most prolific and probably most well-recorded klezmer bandleader. The music was generally for a larger ensemble that might have gigged at a Lower East Side wedding, and the arrangements were more involved and broadly dense than would be expected outside the studio. His bands were sparked by clarinet virtuosi Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarris. And he not only recorded klezmer proper, but also Yiddish theater, novelty, comedy songs and folk strains from the Eastern European diaspora that woud be quite familiar to New York Jews of the generation that installed victrolas in their living space and bought the records.

There's a nice anthology of some of his 78s that's been out for a number of years and still available: Abe Schwartz, The Klezmer King (Columbia Legacy 86321). It gives you a generous 25 selections, about half klezmer proper, half in the other categories mentioned above.

Those who have only heard Klezmer in its revival form may find the thick textured, old technology feel of the records a little unexpected. It takes some getting used to. But once you've gone beyond an adjustment period there is some wonderful music on this album. A few of these cuts have emerged here and there on revival releases since the 1970s, but not all that many and never in such concentrated form. This one is a very good Schwartz retrospective, well worth your time and around at a good price. Listen, enjoy, learn.

Monday, October 24, 2011

James Lee Stanley and Cliff Eberhardt, All Wood and Doors: Doors Songs Acoustically Transformed

Who would have thought of an acoustic remake of Doors hits? Pickers-singers James Lee Stanley and Cliff Eberhardt have. All Wood and Doors (Beachwood 2010667) takes 12 well-known Doors songs and rethinks them thoroughly, sometimes recomposing them, for acoustic guitar, lead vocals, vocal backing and ensemble elements. They are joined by Doors bandsmen John Densmore and Robby Krieger as well as Peter Tork, Timothy B Schmidt, Laurence Juber, Paul Barrere, and others.

It provides alternative fare--a somewhat reflective, quieter rethinking of what Doors fans have heard for decades. The powerful Morrison baritone and rock electricity of the originals get put aside for a folkie-pop vocal-harmony thing and some tasteful strumming and picking. It's not meant to replace the originals and it most definitely does not. Instead, at its best, it gives a refreshing, heightened immersion in the songs and the lyrics themselves, which bear the new scrutiny well.

If you've lived with the Door originals you have a personal feeling for them, an experience of them. And you will react to the new versions in whatever ways you will. I am saying that not everybody is going to like this, possibly. Those who don't wont want to get past the originals; people who do will doubtless see this as an extra bonus, a supplement, not a replacement of the originals. I fall into the second camp.

It is quite well done.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Four Bags: "Forth," with Trombone, Accordion, Electric Guitar and Reeds

Don't think there's nothing new under the sun. Some days there isn't much sun, but if you seek it out there is always something new. The Four Bags quartet has a new one called Forth (NCM East 40132), and it is something out of the ordinary.

The quartet has been on the New York scene since 1999. They have the unusual instrumentation/lineup of Brian Drye, trombone, Jacob Garchik, accordion, Sean Moran, electric guitar, and Mike McGinnis on clarinet and bass clarinet. They are perhaps even more notable in their compositional approach than they are as improvisers, though all are quite respectable players, certainly. All four contribute pieces and there are some unusual covers as well--of an electronic piece, a Persian classical song, and a Brazilian Forro.

With the instrumentation a kind of avant cabaret spirit prevails. However they cover a wide spectrum of influences, from the world, as we note above, avant jazz, classical and a sort of folk flavor, all kept very much alive through very interesting arrangements and four-part writing. They manage to capture a kind of post-Weillian something that has been in the air for a while and transform in into something that seems very New York and, if you will, hip Downtown-like.

It's enough I hope to say that this is one of the more refreshingly musical disks I have heard this year. They carve out a group sound carefully, almost note-by-note.

This is definitely one of those new things under the sun. Check it out by all means!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

George Benson, Guitar Man, 2011

George Benson can, if he so chooses, play rings around most jazz plectrists out there. He doesn't always so chose. There have been many albums for him in his career, and for many of them he has hitched his star to the commercial muse (a contorted metaphor, but you will forgive me because it's 7 AM here). It seems that George would rather communicate to a general audience and incidentally reap the rewards of strictly commercial success than he would pull out all the stops and get a more limited following of strictly jazz aficionados. That's fine and it is indeed his choice. You get a glimmer, every once in a while, of what a monster player he is.

Take for example on his latest, Guitar Man (Concord Jazz). Yes, it has a pop veneer. There are sometimes those sweetener strings, a little of the disco beat, and he has that lounge lizard vocal thing happening on a few cuts, and he IS an excellent singer. . . . He gets into all kinds of accessible material too. Norah Jones's "I Don't Know Why," "Tequila," "My One and Only Love," but also "Naima."

And if you listen to the whole disk, which is a not unpleasant experience, George's brilliance breaks through here and again, with some stunning unaccompanied moments, some amazing lines just sort of thrown in there like a "yeah, I am great by the way."

I do not fault his tryst with success. That is not an easy thing. And I don't blame him for his pop orientation. With Guitar Man you hear in those moments where he lets loose that he still has that amazing facility and imagination that's been there all along. So if that's what we are going to get, then this is a good example of what he does and can do nowadays. I would love to hear him cut loose in a small group and take some long solos, etc. Maybe he'll do that next time? If not, we have this one, a document of the man today and a pleasurable listen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

John Scofield, A Moment's Peace: Sco' Goes the Ballad Route

No artist should feel obligated to follow a set of dictates of what he or she should cover for repertoire. Cover standards, pop, or don't. It's a matter of what works best for the artist at a particular point in the music. John Scofield, a guitar-playing institution in the jazz realm for so long, felt the need to express himself with a set of ballads and gentle music. A Moment's Peace (Emarcy) came out late last month to that end. It shows you what a master improviser and an excellent quartet can do when they work their way inside a set of songs and get into what makes the music tick.

So it's Scofield with Larry Golding on piano and organ, Scott Coley on bass and Brian Blade at the drums. It turns out that everyone has embraced the music, tuned themselves finely and honed in on the beauty and power of the material. In so doing they have lost none of the artistry that makes then jazz musicians of the first rank. It's almost to the guitar quartet what Coltrane's album Ballads was for the famed tenor quartet. Scofield bends and soul-phrases his way through each gem. A late-night, after-hours quiet intensity prevails, like the audience has gone home and there are only a few friends and the musicians to get inside the songs.

Lennon & McCartney's "I Will," the perennial "I Want to Talk ABout You," "I Loves You Porgy," these are the heavy-hitting standards. Scofield sounds totally inspired by it all. Goldings, Colley and Blade get on the same beam and they are off. It's a monument to Scofield's depth of feeling and nuance of expression. A masterwork of Scofieldism at its best and most profound.

Do not hesitate to get with this one. It has it!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The New Universe Music Festival 2010 CD or DVD Set: McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Lenny White, etc.

The 2010 edition of the New Universe Music Festival (Abstract Logix 2-CD ABLX030, 2-DVD ABLX 031) was a gathering of the tribes, so to speak, an extended look at the current state-of-the-art for fusion artists, mostly from the roster of Abstract Logix records. Fortunately the film and audio crew were well placed and captured the whole thing, the best of which is available as a 2-CD or 2-DVD set from the record label. I've spend some time looking and listening closely to these sets and I emerge with a good feeling about it all.

Whether listening to the CDs or looking-listening to the DVDs you get the same basic program. Alex Machacek, his trio and his advanced guitar work, drummer Ranjit Barot with a six-piece outfit, Scott Kinsey's keys and quartet, Jimmy Herring's guitar and quartet, Wayne Krantz's alternate guitar vision with a trio, famed drummer Lenny White leading a two-guitar quintet, and last but not at all least, John Mclaughlin with his quartet and a special appearance from tabla master Zakir Hussain. For the DVD version you get a bonus series of excerpts from the Tribute to McLaughlin, which includes many of the artist appearing previously. You also get interviews from some of the key players in the festival.

This is an excellent, stimulating program and the highlights are many. I would single out Alex Machacek for his spacey guitar work, Ranjit Barot's drum solo and Indo-Fusion, Jimmy Herring's guitar work throughout, Matthew Garrison's wacky de-tuned bass solo and very hip ensemble playing on the Scott Kinsey set, Lenny White's excellent performance, and the John McLaughlin finale and its stirring duets and trios with McLaughlin-Hussein and Hussein and the two McLaughlin drummers Mark Mondesir and Gary Husband, all of which brings home (as does the festival as a whole) how much Indian classical form and sophistication have become a mainstay in contemporary fusion. The segment also, to say the least, exhilarates with its dynamic interplay. Hussain of course is one of the foremost percussion masters of today and through his finely honed, rhythmically superlative performance he spurs McLaughlin and the drummers on to some of their most inspired playing in years.

The interviews are not uninteresting but ultimately dispensible, as are the highlights of the McLaughlin tribute. But they are bonus material only found on the DVD, so they are an additional reason why the DVD is the best bet if you have a good audio connection to your DVD system. Sound is excellent in either format and the camera work is very good as well.

So there you have it. The New Universe is populated with a consistently high-level set of performances. Guitarists, drummers, bass players, keyboardists and just plain fans will find much to like here. It is a bit of a scorcher! Highly recommended.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bruce Arnold and Dusan Bogdanovic, "Aspiration": Advanced Acoustic Guitar Duets

Aspiration (Muse Eek 129) is an interesting series of free improv acoustic guitar duets that came about when Bruce Arnold and Dusan Bogdanovic chanced to jam together and realized their affinities. The result is a wide ranging set of 18 duets that reference everything from early music lute to Spanish classical to the nether realms of advanced jazz.

Sometimes the music has the periodicity of rain falling, gentle notes sounding interesting combinations, drawing together and pulling apart as scattered punctual points on a broad field. Other times there are motives that one may suggest and the other react to.

Throughout the course of the set Arnold and Bogdanovic enter some rarified aural realms in excellent fashion. There is a sheer visceral element, an obvious love for the simultaneous double melody line and the variety of sounds the two acoustics can express in the duet situation.

The music is of such an unusual caste that it defies easy description. It is broadly tonal, brilliantly spontaneous and thoroughly open ended. There is a gentle freedom that will make this an accessible offering for even those who tend to be put off by the more assertive variety of free improv. For the rest of us there is much to appreciate as well.

Not your everyday fare and all the more interesting for it. Give it a listen by all means.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tom Hamilton, Electronics, Bruce Eisenbeil, Guitar, Duo on "Shadow Machine"

Noise, unusual timbre, texture, duration and percussives...these are some of the key elements in Tom Hamilton's (electronics) and Bruce Eisenbeil's (guitar) duo set Shadow Machine (Pogus 21051-2). I reviewed Maestro Eisenbeil's 1999 CIMP recording Mural some time ago (see posting for March 23, 2011). The 2008 duo we look at here shows a definite movement into more abstract territory. In part it is organic movement and in part it is a logical, creative counterpart to the sound and timbre-oriented electronics conjured by Tom Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton puts together soundscape symphonics of a noisy, ambient and well developed nature. Bruce responds with post-Derek Bailey virtuoso guitar avantics. He impresses with his well executed, fully controlled coaxing of unusual sounds and interesting noting. He sounds harmonics in abstracted clusters, plays below the bridge, mutes the strings and gets various electronically enhanced swoops and dives in a full spectrum of exotic electric guitar possibilities. It's some of the best avant guitar improvisational forays I've heard.

What's especially striking is the two-way Hamilton-Eisenbeil interactions and how they are both double solos and double accompaniments at the same time. They cover much aural ground in fascinating ways and with such deliberation that there is nothing that sounds tentative or experimental. The vocabularies are full and the musical conversations filled with impact.

It's the sort of "free" music that relates palpably to cutting-edge classical avant, yet has the sort of x follows y intensity of jazz.

It may be a sleeper, but it's a winner, start to finish. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Biota's Mnemonists, Musique Actuelle 1990: Get Ready for Anything

A friend of mine about a year ago heard some of my music and mentioned the group Biota as someone I might like. I followed up and found their Mnemonists, Musique Actuelle 1990 (Anomalous 025) on the web. Mine was a used copy; I believe the Biotamusic site lists outlets where it might be found new. The album was commissioned apparently by Montreal's Musique Actuelle--New Music America. This CD was a byproduct, if not the sole objective. It's a band formed in 1979 in Fort Collins, Colorado as the Mnemonist Orchestra and they are in a league of their own. Or were? It is not clear how active they are. At any rate it is one of a number of albums they have made.

This one is an unpredictable, rather wildly experiment in electro-acoustic music. It combines electronic transformations of conventional music, avant classical, rock and/or folksy strains played on conventional instruments, and more or less pure electro-acoustics.

This is music so unexpected and different that you must hang with it repeatedly to get on its wavelength. Much of it has a dark soundcape-y quality; other musical events punctuate and perforate the matrix to shift the mood and provide a different sort of gravitational pull.

It is not music that meets you half-way. Rather you are invited over to their terrain to make your ears comfortable as best they can. In the end you get something you might not have bargained for, an unexpected find of otherworldy sounds that evolve and transform in the hour-plus playing time, taking you places you have probably never been. Those with a need to seek out the very different will find this to their liking, I'd imagine. If you find, for example, that early Pink Floyd didn't go far enough into the cosmic landscape, this is no doubt for you. It is fairly extreme but also extremely well done.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Charlie Apicella & Iron City: Organ Trio Plus Two On "The Business"

Charlie Apicella and Iron City return to the rootsy fold on The Business (CArlo 233). It's Charlie doing his version of Wes-Grant-Pat-George-rooted organ trio grits and gravy, a guitarist with soul and finesse. Iron City currently includes Dave Mattock on the Hammond, doing what one does in this bag and doing it with some style. Alan Korzin lays down the solid grooves on drums with Mayra Casales double-teaming him on congas. Finally there's Stephen Riley on tenor, giving out a breathy cross between Ben Webster and Stanley Turrentine, channeled in his own way.

Judging from these words by now you probably have an idea of what you get on this disk, and you'd be right if your mental picture conjures up the sounds invoked. The key factor though is that these fellows play it all like they mean it. They get maximum groove torque. They keep it all on with originals and exemplary tunes by some of the historic funk groovers.

Well and that's what it is all about. Like the idea and you'll like the disk, I have little doubt!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Junior Well's Classic Hoodoo Man Blues Reissued

Chicago's soul blues dynamo Junior Wells was severely ripping it up by the mid-sixties. He combined some of the heavy qualities of the soul beat with the raw energy of Junior himself and the Chicago blues in general. His 1965 classic Hoodoo Man Blues pitted his leather-for-hell vocals with his wailing harmonica and all of that in turn with Buddy Guy's iconic guitar stylings and a hip backing band. It is with us again in a reissue (Delmark 812) that includes seven alternate takes, several unissued.

Junior of course had a vocal style no one else could touch, with at least five different vocal attacks and a face-full of blues. Buddy Guy was his perfect foil. And with this album every song is a miniature masterwork, some reworked blues classics, others associated exclusively with Junior.

It sounds as good as ever. Better, even. The alternate takes are not a huge revelation but it's good to hear the variations. The previously unreleased studio chatter slices give you a "you are there" feel, bring you into the studio as a spectator from the future.

This is prime Wells--very possibly his very best. And that is saying an awful lot. It is a must for any serious student of the blues. Or anybody who wants the blues to shine with the sun in today's back door (with any luck)!

Monday, October 10, 2011

TIN/BAG's "Bridges": Trumpet-Guitar Duets from Kris Tiner and Mike Baggetta

Bridges (Mabnotes 002) jumps right in and so we will too.It's a well thought-out series of duets between trumpeter Kris Tiner and electric guitarist Mike Baggetta. There is something about its mellow quality that reminds me of Miles's In A Silent Way. Not because it has rhythmic pulse or pronounced head melodies, but because there is a tonal melodality going on with Mike's pure-toned electric sound and Kris's straight- or muted-horn lyricism.

It has a slight middle-period ECM ambiance as well. The comparisons stop there, though, because TIN/BAG most definitely create their own ways around and through the notes. Half the composition credits go to Tiner, half to Baggetta and there often is a seamlessness between improvisation and composition. Mike works through some variously articulated chordal envelopes and single lines of interest while Kris applies mind-soul leverage to his note choices so that most everything stands out as refreshingly out of the ordinary. It's a duet that uses well the spaces between the notes to create a kind of creative-cosmic vacuum packing. Cliches have no place here. It's rather a place where melodic invention, gentle chordal ostinatos and sotto voce trumpet exhortations gain dynamics and then just as dramatically lapse back into the whisper of remembrance, of melody re-recalled. The set concludes with a lovingly rubato rendition of Dylan's "Just Like A Woman," and it seems like the right way to end.

This is a finely original, small-detailed set of nine miniatures. Gems if you will.

And it makes for an excellent listen. Recommended.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bassist Harrison Bankhead Leads A Sextet On His "Harvest Moon" CD

Bassist Harrison Bankhead has been mixing it up and providing strong bass foundations for many of Chicago's most advanced and illustrious jazz masters for a number of years.

He steps out on his own with a very creative and able sextet, and you can hear them in action on Morning Sun, Harvest Moon (Engine 039). This is freely articulated music with focus. You hear a little of the tribal hipness of Sun Ra and the Art Ensemble, with some Afro-jazz riff grooves and melodic solowork, and there are various exhilaratingly free blowouts and some Ayler-ish folk strains.

He's put together a very nice lineup in Ed Wilkerson and Mars Williams on reeds, the violin of James Sanders, drums and percussion by Avreeayl Ra, and percussion from Ernie Adams. They form a cohesive unit with plenty of fire and sound color. And everybody gives the music a kick, whether soloing individually, collectively, or getting a sound across.

Excellent free date here. Highly recommended.

Pitom Offers Free Download of A Yom Kippur Song in an Avant Metal Version

The Jewish-Avant-Rock ensemble Pitom, New York based, recently released a very interesting album, Blasphemy And Other Serious Crimes (Tzadik). I reviewed that several weeks ago (see below) and liked what I heard very much. For the Yom Kippur holy day (which begins at sundown) they have created a beautiful rendition of "Ki Anu Amekha" and are offering it to you as a free download. It's wonderful music. Pick it up at (copy and past this URL into your browser window). This is music to appreciate regardless of your affiliation. So give it a listen.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rick Stone Trio and Their CD "Fractals": Guitar Trio Subtleties

New York's Rick Stone turns down the treble and plays a mellow, highly noteful approach to mainstream changes jazz that is best termed a kind of "modern throwback." It's rooted in the '50s-early '60s guitar masters but it has a modern slant to it. Standards and originals fill his hour-long set, Fractals (Jazzland 005), and they fill it with real artistry. His trio has the cool burn going for it. Bassist Marco Panascia and drummer Tom Pollard have all the chops they need and harness it to the changes and the constant swing. Both solo in appropriate ways.

But it is Rick Stone's determined, gracefully executed chord-line prowess that is the order of the day. He's mastered the bop idiom and can built an outness on it when he wishes--like on "Nacho Mama's Blues," whose head and solo spot take the harmonic edges of bop blues and say something coherent and hip.

This is no trip through bop nostalgia. It is a cohesive creative statement on the tradition by a very accomplished guitarist and his very simpatico trio. Well done!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Aram Bajakian's Kef: Guitarist Introduces the Armenian Tinge

Generally anything that comes out on Tzadik Records, I've found, is a musical gift, something nobody else covers much, if at all. The recent release Aram Bajakian's Kef (Tzadik) falls right in with that idea. It's a most interesting ensemble headed by guitarist Bajakian. He and his bandmates combine traditional Armenian sounds with electric rock elements, fusionoid organicism, and a bit of avant downtown noise-skronk. Shanir Blumenkranz joins on acoustic and electric bass, oud and gimri, while violinist Tom Swafford rounds out the group with world village-meets-the Village savvy.

There are acoustic forays of great beauty, energetic dance-form Armeniana and journeys into more abstracted rock territory. Nobody is out to wow you with machine-gun virtuosity but the thoroughgoing musical vision comes off with superb musicianship and fully creative attention to form and expression.

It's part of what so-called fusion has become in New York in recent years, a world music that is cosmopolitan and urban, that takes on the centuries-old incorporation of ethnically distinct elements into a big-apple cauldron of performativity and makes it all new again.

This is an excellent set that will satisfy your need for a different musical approach that revels in difference. Recommended!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Riverside EP "Memories in My Head" Continues Their Original Prog Stance

With modern prog rock there are a few elements you expect on any representative disk. Well developed vocals, poetic impressionistic lyrics, long song structures, synth-org & guitar-bass-drums all in synch with elaborate arrangements and some pithy soloing (more of the latter and less vocals and you start entering into fusion territory). Of course that's just a template. WHAT a group does with that matters much.

Riverside is a group that puts all of those elements together. Their 10th anniversary EP Memories in My Head (Laser's Edge) shows that they manage to go well beyond the rote aspect of prog practice to create music today that is original, spacey and musically rich in the manner of the best historic bands. That they do not sound like those bands is why they are very good; that after 10 years of hitting it they are confidently themselves makes them more than that.

This is terrifically moody, long-form prog. All elements are there and the production sparkles as it sprawls into familiar yet somehow strangely rearranged soundscapes.

Thirty-minutes. Three long pieces. One happy listener.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Maria Jameau and Blue Brazil Bring Us "Gema"

Singer Maria Jameau comes up with an eclectic mix of Brazilian bossa-samba standards plus African, Latin American and French folk and miscellania on Gema (Challenge 73304). It's Maria with a strongly pleasing delivery, vocal harmonies, plus percussion and as warranted, flute, guitar and bass accompaniments.

The song choice is good, Maria can sing, the backgrounds sometimes have the bossa-samba groove, sometimes Afro-Cuban clave, sometimes a combination of various elements.

The group is based in California. Bob Afifi plays solo flute with a Herbie Mann-meets-the-world sort of agility and lightness.

Summer is coming in Brasil. Those of us facing fall and winter up north will find this a nice way to escape. After you dig this one you might want to search a little for the original bossa-samba-classic recordings from Brazil. But this one stands on its own in a distinctive way.