Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sultans of String, "Move"

Today the review is a quickie, not because the music is not interesting, but because my schedule is making demands on me this morning.

Sultans of String is a Canadian group--six string violin, two guitars, bass and percussion. On Move (Factor-Outside MCK 2050), their third album, they combine gypsy swing with mid-eastern, Latin and bossa strains, among other things, for an appealing eclectic mix. The (mostly acoustic) guitarists and violinist are rather good and they cover lots of ground.

It is quite pleasant.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Alexis Parsons in Self-Titled Vocal Set with Pianist Frank Kimbrough

Alexis Parsons (Ellick Records) has put together a set of great standards not often performed, from Wilder's "Winter of My Discontent" (which seems quite appropriate for the season and feeling in late January) to Legrand's "You Must Believe in Spring," with some gems in between. She interprets them all with a concentrated attention to the lyric content--something not everyone does as well--and puts emphasis on the drama of musical diction. She has a nice voice, more inclined to anticipate and delay than to embellish and scat, and Frank Kimbrough's accompaniment is at most times beautifully appropriate.

The songs, the voice-piano interaction, the heart-felt, world weariness Ms. Parsons projects--all combine to make this a good experience.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Al Di Meola, "Morocco Fantasia" DVD

Guitar virtuoso Al Di Meola and his World Sinfonia made what can best be termed a triumphant appearance at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco recently. The concert and surrounding musical sidebars were well recorded for posterity and now appear in crisp visual and excellent 5:1 sound on the DVD Morocco Fantasia (inakustik).

Di Meola's World Sinfonia comprises Al on acoustic and electric guitars, a second guitarist, accordion, percussion, drums and bass. For this concert they are joined part of the time by some excellent Moroccan musicians on oud, violin and percussion.

It's a very interesting concert, with of course Al's pyrotechnic guitar styling, here mostly acoustic, some very interesting compositions and, especially for the segment where Moroccan musicians are involved, a fascinating and moving combination of folk-fusion and Moroccan musical forms.

In addition to the main concert segments we get Di Meola jamming with local musicians at the marketplace bazaar, and additional rehearsal, soundcheck and concert footage. The DVD goes on for a generous two-plus hours.

Very much recommended for world and fusion fans.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Corroncho: A Fascinating Excursion into Latin-Spanish-Gypsy-Mideastern Fusion

Corroncho is a collaborative effort by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzera and the Colombian visual artist-sculptor Lucho Brieva. Fused magico is the order of the day on their self-titled album (Expression Records).

It's an interesting mix of Latin-American sounds with a touch of flamenco flavoring, gypsy echoes and mid-eastern musics. There are dance-oriented elements and a host of guest appearances, including Robert Wyatt, Crissie Hynde, Annie Lenox, and Cuban pianist Aldo Lopez Gavilan, among others.

It has a vocal orientation ... otherwise it is rather indescribable. Quite interesting though.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Belly Full of Blues, Jukin' with de Blues, Catbone Unreleased Kicks Off Its Anthology Series

The blues are back. But then again they never left. Catbone Unreleased has compiled a bunch of anthologies of classic blues and today we take a peek at one of them, Belly Full of Blues, Jukin' with de Blues (Catbone Unreleased 2004-2). Now the label name would lead you to suspect that all the cuts here have never been released, at least in the takes given. I am not entirely sure of that but it is excellent music either way. The sequence of cuts listed on the back cover is out of order, but at any rate there are some gems by John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Richard and Tina Turner, and some cuts by lesser known blues persons or persons not primarily associated with the blues these days (Peter Frampton), or things that aren't quite the blues (Jack Millman's "Polka Dots and Moonbeams". "Sweet Sixteen" sounds like it's BB King and not Howlin' Wolf as the back cover states. There are a few other glitches as well.

What's great here is great! There are few that are less great. The good (great) outweighs the lesser though...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Michael Schenker, "Temple of Rock," Guitar Shred in the Spotlight

Michael Schenker? The Scorpions, UFO, his own bands, he's been around for years, establishing street cred as a premier hard-rock guitarman. So here's his new album, Temple of Rock (INAK 9103). It's hard edged with plenty of good guitar moments. Singer Michael Voss is onboard throughout. I have not gotten used to his style. Sorry.

As for the rest, the songs and the shred, it's good. Very good. A high point is the final track, with a "Three Generations Guitar Battle" between Schenker, Leslie West and Michael Amott.

Hard rock/metal guitar-shred fans will dig what Michael is doing here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shirley Crabbe, "Home": Some Singing Going On!!

Singers. Remember? We cover them here as well as all the other things. There are lots of singers out there in the "jazz" realm. Some aren't quite up to snuff. Others you hear and you KNOW. You know that they are an instrument of the music. I knew that from the very first opening moments of Shirley Crabbe's CD Home (self released). She has it all--the phrasing, the fine tuning of inflection, the delivery of lyrics and that something that takes real artistry--a variability, a variational knack.

Well now here she is with a mid-sized group with some good soloists, even Houston Person on a couple of cuts. She chooses songs that aren't overdone, "Not While I'm Around" from Sweeny Todd, Oscar Brown's "Strong Man," "Detour Ahead," Carol King's "So Far Away." And she obviously does them because Ms. Crabbe has something to contribute to them. And so she does.

Here's a singer to appreciate, doing songs she obviously loves, with a band that's cool. That's enough for me!! Check her out.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Neptune, "Silent Partner"--Call It What You Want!

Robotic electronics, insistent drums and percussion, ultra-postshred guitar work, attitudinal vocals, Neptune is up to something that is not easily classified, and all the better for that. That is, on their album Silent Partner (Northern Spy). It's electric, somewhat industrial, obsessive, truculant, and salvage shop space-aged, scrap metal for a Blade Runner world. This is the future arrived, in ways that Eisenhower and Kennedy did not forsee. You know about that future. You are in it. Here's its music.

So what more is there to say? There is originality.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Andrea Centazzo-Henry Kaiser, "Infinity Squared," Live in Los Angeles, 2006

A couple of days ago we looked at the Andrea Centazzo-Elliot Sharp duo recording. Today it's Andrea and Henry Kaiser, Infinity Squared (Ictus 152). This one was caught live at Cafe Metropol in Los Angeles during the summer of 2006. Like the Centazzo-Sharp duet this one has atmospheric sampling-electronics, Andrea's beautifully melodic battery of drums and percussion, and adventuresome guitar explorations, this time Henry Kaiser in a spacey mood. Once again it's not a hot licks exchange, but rather a successful attempt to create a live soundscape of varying moods and textures.

Gongs and cymbal washes, backwards guitar, some energetic freestyle drumming and guitar soundsculpting are in order. In this context the percussion and drums have a pitched relevance that plays off of Henry's scrambled but no less pitched guitar poetics. Of course if Andrea is on vibes, that is a matter of course. The whole battery however is an extension of a tonality, which cannot be said for many avant percussion practitioners that come out of the improvisatory area. A surprise is "A Similar Thang" when Henry breaks into the chord sequence to Muddy Waters' "The Same Thing" and Andrea takes some nice vibes rides, then Henry turns in a blistering scorcher of a solo while Andrea comps. From there it gets way out there but with space a major factor. It's not so much a barrage as it is an essay in periodicity. Lots of two-way contrasts and empathetic listening is going on between the two artists.

"Eternal Current Anew" is a long motif reminiscent of the one on Zappa's "Watermelon in Easter Hay" and Henry gets quite lucid overtop of the ostinato percussion and guitar loop. There are some rocker-outs and a big spacescape to top off the album.

It's a very fruitful encounter. The two connect in multiple musical circuitry, in ways that envelop the listener in dazzling sound color. Space cadets, seek this one out by all means.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Christopher Lapina, "Eclectic Eve:" Too Good to Be Called "New Age?"

When you accidentally stumble across a review as you are trying to find cover art, it can be off-putting. I try not to be influenced. Unfortunately as I was scrolling through the net I brushed against some kind of review--that is, of the CD at hand this morning, Christopher Lapina's Eclectic Eve (self-released). It confidently put this music in the category "New Age." Well I've heard this CD five times now and it is NOT new age. It's instrumental, and it's not jazz exactly. It's composed, arranged with some amount of improvisation but not a lot.

Christopher Lapina plays various keys and wrote the music. He surrounds himself with various instrumental configurations, different with every piece. So it ranges from just Christopher to duos to choir with combo.

The music has occasional world music aspects. It's tonal, has a little of a rock inflection much of the time, features some very nice guitar solos now and again, and more besides.

The point though is that the music is rather good. There are no vapid banalities to lull the listener into catatonia. It is music to be listened to, with some amount of seriousness. But of course I suppose it could also serve as music to ignore music by, but it's too good for that.

Certainly interesting. Perhaps not extraordinarily profound. It may be a hip equivalent to the space-age bachelor music that is making its comeback. Or perhaps not?? Or maybe it's mellow jamband? I don't know. It has a slight veneer of the smooth but it isn't after that crowd either, I don't think. And it has spacey elements. You decide for yourself what it is. Or forget that game and just listen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"From Straight to Bizarre: Zappa, Beefheart, Alice Cooper, and LA's Lunatic Fringe" DVD

Frank Zappa with his business partner Herb Cohen embarked on an ambitious label venture in 1968. By the mid-early '70s it was gone. From Straight to Bizarre (Sexy Intellectual SIDVD 568) documents on DVD the story of the Straight and Bizarre labels, and the non-Mothers/Zappa releases that came out over the years of operation.

We get the story of the creative relations between Zappa and the artists, the music itself and its production, and the overall ethos of freakdom that the music in part represented. Essra Mohawk (Sandy Hurvitz), Wild Man Fischer, the GTOs, Alice Cooper and of course Captain Beefheart, among others, are discussed and what they did during this period.

There are talking head interviews of some of the key participants, commentary by selected critics, a cohesive narrative and selected music excerpts.

It's an important overview that is not perfect. There is less interview footage from Zappa himself than would be ideal, no commentary from Beefheart or Cooper, and perhaps less musical examples than one might want. The coverage of Captain Beefheart is not as comprehensive as his importance demands. Of course an entire DVD could easily focus on the Captain in his Straight Records phase, arguably his most seminal. Gary Lucus, guitarist and later Beefheart band member has been giving presentations on the life and importance of the Captain. And BBC has done an interesting documentary on Beefheart's entire career. So there is alternative coverage. On the other hand band members such as Drumbo (John French) have insightful things to say on the DVD about the living-creating situation of the band and how the music was put together during this period.

All-in-all one is left with a vivid picture of the commonalities the artists shared as part of the Zappa orbit and some of the wonderful music that was made--as well as some oddities that were more important as socio-cultural documentations of the freak scene.

It's a good introduction to the subject--entertaining, informative, and fascinating. It may not be perfect but it will no doubt be well-received by the Zappa aficionado and anyone with an interest in the counter-culture and music of the era.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Zs, "33": Brooklyn's Insistently Idiomatic Trio Logs in with a Double Seven-Inch EP

Brooklyn's trio Zs are a thing apart. Not just noisemeisters, not a simply free aggregate, they go their own way with a certain insistency. The double 7" EP 33 (Northern Spy 016) gives guitarist Ben Greenberg (who we recently discussed in the context of his solo opus Hubble Drums), tenor saxophonist Sam Hillmer, and drummer Ian Antonio a chance to shine in miniature. They respond with four brief slabs of anarchic cohesion . . . with structure in amorphosity, order in formlessness.

This is music of the lineage of AMM, MEV, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Il Gruppo and other sound-oriented a-rhythmic improvisational ensembles. It is brutally brief, compact in extremis, telegraphically concise, an Occam's Razor slashing the sound to bits. Yet they manage to say four things that speak in abstractiveness, utter meaning in incoherency, find logic in the irrational.

That's something.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Moe, "What Happened to LA LAs?", 2012, Jamband Gets Distilled in Concentrated Song Form

Any jamband the caliber of Moe rests much of its reputation on the extended live set. They are revered by their followers for the inspired appearances and where they take the audience. In the studio the audience and night-of-music expansiveness isn't a factor so much. It's a different challenge and not all jambands have been able to capture the spark in such environs and translate it into a more compact form.

Moe has. They have on their latest LP What Happened to the LA LAs (Sugar Hill 4080). It's a collection of very solid songs, played with the energy and excitement of their live act, but compressing the extended digressions and extensions that the live situation spawns. There's an abridgment, of necessity. When the jams hit, though they are a get-in-and-get-out-quickly affair, they DO hit the right spots before driving back to the songs.

It works because they are hitting it hard and there is a tight-looseness to the feel of the band that comes out of long togetherness and marathon touring.

Nice music, good tough-tensiled tracks, nice audio presence...this is Moe at their best.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Macy Chen, "After 75 Years" Fuses Jazz Vocals with Chinese Elements

Macy Chen is doing something unusual, and doing it well. Her recent CD After 75 Years (Twinz) gathers a small jazz-oriented ensemble to set off her vocals and the unique repertoire presented. And that repertoire is what sets the music apart. Six are Shanghai pop-jazz tunes from the '30s, then there are a couple of jazz standards sung in Mandarin and a couple of originals.

The resultant program wears well after many listens. Ms. Chen is in good voice, and the jazz artists expand the late-night tone with lots of nicely done obligatto.

The 75 years in the title refers to her grandfather's career doing jazz in Japan. Seventy-five years later Ms. Chen steps forward with another take on the Asian-jazz nexus.

The CD comes with an elaborate, well-conceived scrapbook-like booklet.

This is different. Different and very well-done.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Elliott Sharp-Andrea Centazzo, "Snowplow:" Tapestries of Electronics, Guitar and Percussion

If you haven't been paying attention for the last 30 years, you may have missed the development of Elliott Sharp as one of our era's most original avant guitar stylists. Similarly Andrea Centazzo has helped redefine what percussion/drumming can be in improvisatory music. They both think as composers when they improvise, because that is what they are.

Put those two factors together and you realize that a duet between the two artists is a very good idea. How does it work out on the ground, however? Sharp-Centazzo's Snowplow (Ictus 154) is the answer. And it is a lucid one. The album is the result of a fruitful meeting of the two in New York, 2009.

A battery of percussion, Elliot's guitar set-up, and some sort of sampling-filtering software were the raw elements. The improvised duets capture a overall approach, like Jackson Pollock's paintings that continue from the center to the edge of the canvas. The music is full-frame sound painting.

It's not so much a situation where the two get virtuoso hot licks going, two at a time. It's more of an orchestral psychedelic texture going on. And it goes to various good places in ways that make you sit up and listen.

Two titans meet. The sparks fly. Your ears hear. Your spirit soars. That's what this is about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Boris Savoldelli, "Insanology" Rereleased on Moon June Records

Boris Savoldelli's Insanology was the vocalist's first, originally released in a limited edition by the artist himself. It has now come out on Moon June Records (042). I wrote a very favorable review of the album when it first appeared, so I will not dwell at length on its many bright moments.

I will say though that is one of the most exciting group vocal efforts of this decade. Boris creates all kinds of sonorous musical events by overdubbing various vocal parts that he creates with care, resulting in magical Boris vocal orchestras that seem a combination of Bobby McFerrin, Brian Wilson. . . and Boris Savoldelli.

It's 32 plus minutes of something-else-ness. And now it will be easy to grab a copy.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, "Mirror Traffic," A New One from the Singer-Songwriter-Bandmember

Well alrighty then. Monday. In times of economic and non-recreational misery that I, my family, and countless others are currently enduring, it is good to hear something with an elemental song-based sincerity to wash away the many scores of pretentious pop-star plastic presences that glut the television and radio airwaves. Such straightforward no bs songwriting can be found on the new disk/download by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Mirror Traffic (Matador).

It's rock/alt directness you get on this one. No bull, honest lyrics about the world we occupy, catchy melodies, and enough of a rock edge to keep things honest. I'd say something about Green Day here, but only in the sense of the youthful sound of the vocals. Well I just did, so.

I cover so much stylistic diversity on this blog that I am not sure Mr. Malkmus will appeal to the same crowd as, say, people who would like, say, Hubble Drums. What do they have in common? Guitars, melody, a lack of bullcrap....and I hope for an open stance from readers, too. Don't limit yourself. Everybody else will want to do that so why make it worse for yourself?

And so we continue...and good luck to us all getting through the winter, eh? And thank you world events if you can manage to keep the cost of heating oil low enough and thank you nature if you can make sure the temperatures stay reasonable enough so that I can remain where I am and continue to review music. Ay-hay-men.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dave Tarras and the Musiker Brothers, "Tanz!", A Klezmer Classic from 1955

Dave Tarras, one of the Klezmer clarinet immortals, cut a disk of updated arrangements in 1955, Tanz!, which fell flat sales-wise at the time but has wisely been reissued on CD (Epic Legacy 86320).

It's Dave and his (presumably) working ensemble, doing classical Yiddish Klez, with the accent on Dave's beautiful and lively clarinet work.

That's what it is; that's great; that will not disappoint you if you know what Dave was all about; and for those who like to take chances and don't know what this could be, give it a shot. I think you'll be very pleased if you let the music work its way into your world.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Johnny Winter "Live at Rockpalast," 1979, Now Out in CD Version

I reviewed the DVD version of this several months ago (see earlier posting). so I'll just mention today that the CD version of Johnny Winter Live at Rockpalast (MVD 5185A) is now out. It sounds great, has most of what's on the DVD and gives you some very fine Johnny in a peak period. Enough said!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hubble, "Hubble Drums:" Ben Greenberg's Trance-Drone Psychedelia for Electric Guitar

It is interesting to trace the advent of drone and trance in modern music through the initial influence of Indian music on the psychedelic electrics of the classic late-'60s. From that has come many things, and the "soundscape" today is one of them. This is not the place to name the particulars, but it does serve to introduce today's musical selection.

We have guitarist Ben Greenberg as Hubble and his 40-minute album Hubble Drums (Northern Spy CD or LP). Don't let the title fool you. This has nothing really to do with drumming (though some electric drums can be heard in the mix on occasion) and everything to do with electronic drones and guitar.

Ben has been the guitarist with Zs and Pygmy Shrews. For Hubble Drums he goes it alone. The music owes much to Fripp and Eno's landmark recordings of the '70s and what has been dubbed Frippertronics. Like their No Pussyfooting, Hubble Drums takes a trance-repetition-drone minimalistic soundscape approach. Where Fripp and Eno were spaciously sprawling, Hubble is more terse and busy. Most musical moments are filled with rather dense, noteful cycles of energy. The result is not as spaced as it is manic. The guitar work is well thought-through. Each piece relates to the others but simultaneously carves out a distinctive note cluster cycle and pace of its own. And there are times when classical psychedelic guitar leads come to dominate, in a repeated and chopped sort of way.

It's quite engaging music, consistently so. Shredmaster Greenberg has managed to come up with his own take on this kind of soundscape, with impressive results.

Northern Spy and Ben Greenberg have been kind enough to upload the track "Nude Ghost" for you to hear. Audition it at http://soundcloud.com/northernspyrecs/01-nude-ghost-hubble/.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Toronzo Cannon, "Leaving Mood" for New Chicago Blues Electricity

I used to think the blues was dead or dieing. It isn't. Among other things there have been some Delmark releases in the last couple of years that tell us Chicago is spawning a new batch of the real thing. Today's CD is a good example. It's Toronzo Cannon, his soulful vocals and his blazing lead guitar, on Leaving Mood (Delmark 817).

It's the hard blues, the electric blues, the soul blues. It has some of the heft of rock and soul. Toronzo is backed by a grooving band and Carl Weathersby joins him on guitar for a couple of cuts, but it's Toronzo all the way in essence. The original tunes are solid and have that something. Toronzo wrings all the feeling out of them onto us. He is a communicator and a bolt of soul lightning on vocals. His guitar has a post-Buddy-Guy sizzle. He's got it and he lets in loose on us in fine fashion.

This is real-deal blues. Get with it and you'll get what you need.