Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fastway, Eat Dog Eat

If you know the rock unit Fastway, you will be happy to hear that their first studio since 1990 is out. If you don't you wont care I suppose. But beyond this fact, Fastway's Eat Dog Eat (MVD 5317A) has such a nicely solid hard-rock (as opposed to metal) immediacy that you might find yourself wondering about the last one if you hear this one a few times.

That is, if you dig the big guitar-bass-drum and traditional hard vocal sound. This one has it. Power chords, riffs, smacking drums, hard-rock song form.

It's what it is, of course. But that's a good thing. Fastway isn't trying to put one over on you. It's honest, real, itself. Rock isn't dead. This is an example why.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Douglas Johnson, Clevinjourneys

Bassist Douglas Johnson steps into the limelight with a solo studio project Clevinjourneys (self-released). It's Douglas live with tastefully deployed drum loops and multiple layers of figure and ground on his Clevinbass, which is an electric stick-contrabass. Everything is done in one shot with the aid of a couple of pedals.

I often do my first listens without looking at who or what I am hearing, to get the music directly without preconceptions. When I came back to the what in this case, I was surprised that all of this is bass, because he gets all kinds of ranges in there; he pizzes and bows equally, and he uses electronic alteration at times for another voice.

It's lots of bass, sure. But it's also primarily music. And as music it is a trance inducer in the good sense. Patterns weave their way and you zone in with it.

Is this a virtuoso bass tour de force? No. It's not meant to be that. It's the musical mind of Douglas Johnson transposed to his multi-layered Clevin bass parts.

A journey that is most captivating!

Album cover photo courtesy of Peter Pawinski (http://www.pawinskiphotography.com).

Friday, July 27, 2012

Studebaker John, Old School Rockin'

The hard kicking Studebaker John returns to Delmark Records for his follow-up album Old School Rockin' (Delmark 818). He is on fire on a series of 14 hard drivin', blues soaked rockers.

It's a trio of John on hard-edged vocals, blazing electric slide guitar and harp, plus bass and drums.

And yeah, he is pounding out some smokers that will appeal to old school electric blues-a-billy and roots rock fans everywhere.

His voice has a touch of the Captain and the Wolf in there when he reaches back for more, and it's just right to kick out the jams. The band is stomping. The originals do what they do with hip riffs and up-front beat.

My oh my and yes indeed!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

New Riders of the Purple Sage, 17 Pine Avenue

The New Riders of the Purple Sage started out, most will know, as a kind of country-flavored Dead offshoot, Jerry himself on pedal steel, with an ambiance that had something in common with the more countrified aspects of the Dead in those days.

They made a bunch of albums, garnered a following of their own and more and more became respected and liked for what they were actually doing as opposed to fame-by-association.

Well they are back. A new album came out this spring, 17 Pine Avenue (Woodstock 0037) and it should satisfy the country rock hippie still lurking inside you.

Not every song is a total gem. But the band is strong and tight, and many of the songs get right to it.

It's good country rock.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

AYCH, As the Crow Flies

AYCH is a formidable free trio lineup of Jim Hobbs on alto sax, Mary Halvorson, electric guitar, and Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet. As the Crow Flies (Relative Pitch 1004) brings the three together in a program of free-wheeling improvisations and compositional frameworks, the latter of which include many by Hobbs and are well worth a careful listen.

Mary's guitar gives the unit the possibility of 3rd front liner or harmonic backdrop, single-note improviser, sound artist or free chordal comp-er. She is admirably versatile and original and the trio puts her often in a fulcrum position.

Jim Hobbs plays a very expressive sax, and can emote in post-Ayler ballad context, get the juices flowing or hang back a bit and play sensitively in a three-way ensemble situation.

Taylor Ho is the multifaceted stylist that brings much to this group, a singular voice that can do most anything that's needed.

A totality of concept and interesting trio blend is what goes down here, with a great deal of stylistic variety and plenty of co-listening and preparation.

Great band. Nice music!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lionel Loueke, Virgin Forest: The Complete Sessions

Vocalist, guitarist, composer, leader Lionel Loueke came upon the scene with a flourish with his Virgin Forest album, released in the U.S. five years ago.

The album is out as Virgin Forest: The Complete Sessions (Obliqsound) to celebrate Obliqsound's 10th anniversary and it's an auspicious occasion. Auspicious because the entire session is a wonderful mix of traditional African elements, Afro-Jazz and much else besides. Herbie Hancock and Cyro Baptista make their appearances in good form and there are six additional acoustic performances.

Loueke plays a nylon stringed guitar in a jazz-meets-Afro-meets-Brazilian samba style and it's a wonder to hear him. There are tribal, dance and modern African forms mixed into Lionel's unique guitar-centered style and it works very well. The songs are very memorable, his voice is masterful and damn, this is some wonderful music.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mrs. Magician, Strange Heaven

If you need a jolt of slacker garage-punk, there's the San Diego band Mrs. Magician and their Strange Heaven (Swami Records).

It's where it should be. The elemental power-chord progressions are played with conviction and abandon on guitars and bass, the drums pound it out like it matters (it does), the vocals portray frustration, ambiguity, despair, boredom and whimsy. "I wish I had something to do so I could stop wasting these tears on you." "There is no god, la-la-la." You hear a little early Beach Boys surf in there too.

Well I like these folks. I like how they lampoon the superficiality of garage pop lyrics with great irony. And hey, they have some tight tunes.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up, The Air is Different

Life, contra that Gump movie, is NOT like a box of chocolates. Because after a while you pretty much do know what you are going to get, for better or worse. However in the case of Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up's The Air is Different (482 Music 482-10719) I was not at all sure what I had gotten. A few listens later and I knew.

It's a disk of drummer Fujiwara's compositions, played by one heck of a band. The music is open-form contemporary improv-jazz by a crack outfit. There's a hit of rock, free and contemporary in a balanced mixage.

Two pretty big surprises here--one is that Fujiwara not only showcases his very contemporary and hip drumming, but he excels as a writer and bandleader. The music is substantial and the band has a definite sound to it.

The second surprise: though this is not my first time hearing trumpetist Jonathan Findlayson, it reaffirms that he is one hell of a player, a kind of post-Booker Little modernist of facility and imagination.

Brian Settles on tenor comes through as a pretty exceptional player too. Gruff and note-y or more quietly introverted, he sounds great here.

Mary Halvorson is a guitarist at the top of the new sound folks, with a very wide range of stylistic accomplishments, from the changes-based semi-trad sound to the wilding kind of sound artist to the rock tinge, she also sounds very good indeed.

Bassist Trevor Dunn goes far to make this band a success with exemplary ensemble and solo playing.

Finally, this album works very well because everyone is pulling together for a group sound. And that sound is one that stands out as exceptionally creative. This is only their second release, so if they can hang together I predict a big impact for them going down the road. As it is, they are very impressive already. Don't hesitate to get this one.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eddie C. Campbell, Spider Eating Preacher

Old-school electric urban blues lives on at Delmark records. Eddie C. Campbell's Spider Eating Preacher (Delmark 819) is one of the latest and it gives you a nice hour of originals, classics and general good doings on this, his second for the label. There's some nice horn section riffing much of the time. Eddie plays a reverb-drenched Fender with the old feel.

It's the soul blues, as seen in things like a bluesy version of "Skin Tight," or the classic "Cut You Loose," and that's where he is coming from.

Eddie has a laid-back vocal style, in his own way, with a deceptively casual delivery that Jimmie Reed and Slim Harpo made such a signature part of their thing. Eddie doesn't sound like them, though. He sounds like himself.

He sounds so much like himself that it took me a few listens to get onto his wave length. After you live with it, it's a wave length to get with.

So, hey, here's a blues cat that's been too little exposed to the blues lovers out there. If you're looking for a new cat to dig that's doing it today, Eddie C. Campbell is a guy to hear.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Abandon Jalopy, Death & Joy

OK, we have Abandon Jalopy's second album today, Death & Joy (Studio Ear Bone). This is the name of the ongoing group project headed up by Blind Lemon's bassist, Brad Smith.

The album has some strong tunes, like for example "All the Way," which should find college station airtime. It's alt rock with a power pop veneer. Instrumentally it has a guitar-bass-keys-drums-vocals immediacy. It's about the songs, not much in terms of improvising, but that isn't the thing.

You listen and you get into it, generally speaking. The strong parts of the program get you liking it, but there are some songs that don't have quite as much going. They go by without pain or consternation and you get to another high point, so it all works out. Good effort and some definite winning moments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

John Lee Hooker, Cook with the Hook, Live 1974, DVD

Here we have some real John Lee Hooker live at an outdoor rock fest of some sort in 1974--more specifically, held at a landfill in Gardner, Massachusetts. It was originally broadcast on local television, apparently, and has been mouldering in limbo until now. It has just been released as a DVD, Cook with the Hook (MVD Visual 5302D).

It's a 45 minute set recorded onto black and white videotape in a rough-and-ready fashion. The sound sometimes suffers a bit from mixing glitches and occasional balance issues, but it is overall quite decent considering.

John holds forth with a bit of his signature guitar. His band is quite serviceable and pretty typical of the period. It looks like John's son is on lead guitar and then there is a pretty solid rhythm section.

John runs through some of the big hits, "Serves You Right to Suffer," "Boom Boom," etc., and then launches into a very long boogie with vamps and John's vocal riding on top with a gospel-soul-blues exortation. This goes on mesmerizingly and no doubt was something the hippies could groove on. They generally do. After an encore of more boogie, it is all over. John fades back into history. But for 45 minutes he comes alive on videotape for us once again, the master that he was, and is.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Wrong Object Recording New Album--Need Your Help to Get it Out!

The Wrong Object is a very good prog-fuze outfit (see reviews on this blog) and they need your help to cover the costs of recording, mixing and mastering their new studio album.

If you can spare a few bucks you'll be helping them out a great deal. Go to http://www.rockethub.com/projects/9245-the-wrong-object-s-new-studio-album for details and to send them something.

Thea Neumann, Lady & the Tramps

Thea Neumann sings with nuance. A good rhythmic sense. Embellishments that fit. Great pitch control. And personality. Her album Lady & the Tramps (Rawlco) gives you a nice assortment of standards and originals. It's Thea and a good piano trio with some guests and occasional horn section punctuations.

It's pretty firmly in the jazz mainstream camp, nicely so. "In Walked Bud" works well with the lyrics. "Vancouver" shows that Thea can write a very engaging ballad. Gillian Welch's "Dear Someone" gets a bell-beautiful rendition. "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" is, well, not made overly cute, which is sometimes a fateful, fatal temptation for singers when they do it, at least in the lounge lizard world. Not here.

Great vocalist, simple but very effective arrangements, good mix of songs. She should be widely appreciated and this CD shows you how that might be.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hendrik Meurkens, Gabriel Espinosa, Celebrando

Brazilian jazz is not new age, not smooth jazz. New age & smooth jazz are often vulgar corruptions of Brazilian jazz, combined with an elevator music mentality. That original heat-in-mellowness that continues to energize samba-bossa jazz has ultimately nothing but a superficial relationship to the smooth and new age bastardizations that came after.

So with the Hendrik Meurkens/Gabiel Espinosa album Celebrando (Zoho 201204) there is a mellowness, sure. But this is the real thing. Hendrik is a first-rank harmonica player. Gabriel Espinosa plays bass and sings, teaming in this latter with Allison Wedding, who sounds quite good in the wordless bag. They are joined by a very hip and appropriate band who can get in the groove and flex the time so that it gently or not-so-gently swings samba-style.

It's an arranged sort of music with room for nice soloing--of course Hendrik on harmonica, Anat Cohen sounding very limber and lithe on clarinet and tenor, Jim Seeley on a nicely brandished trumpet and fluegel, Misha Tsiganov well-represented on piano and Rhodes. Antonio Sanchez and Mauricio Zottarelli share the drum duties. Both provide that all-important swung samba style.

The songs are originals by various members of the band for the most part and they are quite melodic and well-constructed. If this is a post-CTI sort of Brazo-jazz, it is a well done version and it is not in any way formulaic.

In short this is a Brazo-jazz winner. I am glad to have to hear again!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Greg Baker, Subversion

Greg Baker is a very versatile, very accomplished guitarist. We have met with his playing on Gapplegate blogs in association with the composer Gene Pritzker, most spectacularly on an album Greg made of Pritsker's solo guitar music, reviewed on these pages on November 29, 2010.

Greg has a new one out, Subversion (Composers Concordance 008). It's rather different than his earlier recording, in that it is a multi-tracked guitars, bass, beats affair in a prog rock-avant-bag. It shows Greg in a more multi-layered kind of post-Beefheart/post-League of Crafty Guitarists mode with electric and acoustic instruments separately and in combination.

Guitarists and their friends will certainly have much to appreciate here. He is well along the way to his own contrapuntal kind of art-rock.

Give it a listen and you will find some surprising juxtapositions and very interesting guitar work.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spokanarchy! Where Were You in '82?

Punk. Where were you when it emerged? Some were in Spokane, Washington, a sort of one-horse center in those days, isolated and culturally a bit backward.

Spokanarchy (Carnage & Rouge) tells the story of the advent of punk in Spokane in a full-length documentary DVD that focuses on extensive, rather insightful interview footage interspersed with clips of the bands that made what impact they could in that town in the '80s.

The emphasis is on Spokane punk as a lifestyle, a protest against conformity, an anti-establishment expression that flowered, held steady and ultimately became a part of history in the teeth of exceptional hostility.

It wasn't so much about musicianship per se, as the interviews make pretty clear. It was a DIY artistic-social movement that attempted to rise out of the ashes of crushing boredom, teetered and turned for a time into a set of activities that were strongly determined, then fell apart gloriously like the mechanical toys of the '50s.

In the process you experience an excellent documentary that will keep you thinking about it all for years to come. It may not get you to go out and get the Sex Pistols box set if you haven't already. It might make you curious to explore the bands from Spokane from that era. But most importantly it will give you a feel for the punks of backwater America, their courage, their despair, their constructive-destructive mindset.

A must for students of the counter-culture and modern cultural history.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Roman Stolyar and Dominic Duval, Park West Suite

Back to the improvisational arts today. And as for that there is a very good place to be with Roman Stolyar and Dominic Duval's new program, Park West Suite (Cadence Jazz Records). It's a substantial program of free-wheeled improvisational duets with Dominic D of course on contrabass and Roman Stolyar at the piano.

Maestro Duval remains one of the most original, most accomplished bassists in the improvisational world of today. Roman Stolyar is a pianist with various influences (clearly Cecil Taylor, perhaps a bit of Jarrett in his more outre moments, new music performance practices, etc.), which he harnesses for an organic style that is not eclectic as much as it is respectful of those who came before but determined to plow a singular furrow, so to say.

It's a near-hour of the two conjuring up forward moving modes that have room for contemplation at points. Dominic is in top form, playing a great deal of well-thought out bass alternating with space and sound-color moments of relative restfulness.

Mr. Stolyar impresses with good use of motifs, droning full-piano sonances, prepared and inside-the-piano chimes, cosmic whirligigs of turbulence, exploratory moments of spontaneous freedom, and scalular, tone-centered rubatos.

This is a very impressive set--Duval sounds inspired by Stolyar's all-over pianism; Stolyar gets much to interact with from Dominic's explosive bass-mastering.

These two would make a fabulous trio with the addition of a very musical, keenly attuned drum master. But there is so much going on already one certainly feels no lack. Excellent disk!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Grimes, Visions

I had meant to review this one Friday, but a miscue in my logistical work flow forced me to postpone until today. We have Canadian performing artist-vocalist-instrumental-electronician Claire Boucher as Grimes, and her album Visions (4 AD).

My first reaction on hearing it was, "What is this?" Well, it's a kind of joyfully mindless yet cosmically spaced beats-ambiance-pop I guess. The female vocals have the slightest J-pop playfulness to them, but combine that with Bjork and you get what this is--deceptive pop with a bit of a kick.

The synth beats tracks are not cliche and the singsong vocals with heavy echo make you feel as if you are in a futuristic dream.

But it's mindless pop. But it isn't quite. So I like it, in spite of my potential aversion to something like this. It's musical. And a little bit out there in its own way. That's why I decided to mention it. I am glad to hear it. Seems like good summer driving to the beach sort of stuff, but spacey too.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Starving Weirdos, Land Lines

Land Lines (Amish) is the California band Starving Weirdos's latest. It is a statement over and above what one would expect. It has long, creeped-out electronic sprawls that hit in a post-psychedelic way. It blends wall-of-sound soundscape with Javanese nightmare vocals.

It's heavily multi-layered, weird symphonic collaged sectional mastery for your ears. It is ethnic music from another planet. It drones, feeds into itself, rites its post-spring, echoes against the universal container tank.

Towards the end, there is a kind of Nico night of the living live kind of song that fits in nicely, still dense as all get-out.

There are some Indian influences here articulated among the jungle of sustained sound.

Wow. If you like weirdness as a kind of thick-carpeted orchestral-electronic expansiveness, here it is. Impressive cacophony!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ceremony, Zoo, Hard Rock from California

When the hard-edged, power-chording wall of sound guitar band thing is done right, it is an art form. "Who cares?" some might ask. Well now, I do. When the world of music has such a gaggle of styles going on all at the same time, every genre has a few examples of its peculiarities at its best, and those are the ones I tend to like, obviously. Along with innovation wherever it may occur.

So I like Ceremony. I like their album Zoo (Matador) because it is all that I'm talking about above. It's not just a bunch of power chords and some hard-shouting vocals. It hangs together. It rocks with energy. It has a quasi-punk aggressiveness. "Post-hardcore" is what somebody called it on a Google listing I passed by on my way to get the cover art. Well, OK. What the "post" part may be I am not actually sure about. No death-exorcist vocals? Arrangements that have space in them? And there's a hint of punk-surf-retro too. Maybe.

The point is that this is a good band, doing what they do with enough variety that it goes beyond formula. So that works for me. You judge for yourself.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Anna Borges & Bill Ward, Receita de Samba

Lovers of jazz samba will get 32 minutes of good music on Anna Borges & Bill Ward's Receita de Samba (self released).

Anna has a nicely tuned and rhythmically hip vocal style, within classic parameters but with her own kind of warmth. Bill Ward plays quite nicely on the nylon stringed guitar, samba-bossa style, and he can sing too.

They get a small, good rhythm section together for the album and give a light but heated reading of some wonderful samba tunes.

Oh yeah, this is nice. Very, very nice!