Monday, October 29, 2012

Natalie Cressman and Secret Garden, Unfolding

Good heavens, Natalie Cressman is only 20 and she's pulling things together like she's twice that. Here we have Natalie Cressman and her band Secret Garden, giving us her debut CD Unfolding (self-released). It's Natalie playing a very hip, very burnished trombone in a post-JJ way, fronting the three horn front line with trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg and tenorist Chad Lefkowicz-Brown (with Peter Apfelbaum guesting on one cut), then there's Pascal Le Boeuf on keys, Reuben Samama, bass, Jake Goldbas, drums. It's a very capable band.

She writes all the numbers here (except a couple of standards) and they go from from masterful hard-boppish lines to singer-songwriter songs that have a lot to them.

Then she sings too. It's a very personal sort of voice, sweet, soulful, jazz inflected.

The album travels through a lot of territory without seeming out-of-place. It's some very good freewheeling, musically straightahead sounds that impact from the sheer musicality of it all, as jazz, as good horn playing, as very attractive vocalisms.

I'd say, "Welcome Natalie Cressman, welcome to the Schwann Catalog," only I don't know if they are still publishing it (you know, the bible of available recordings for many years). At any rate welcome Natalie Cressman. She is a most welcome artist to the scene. This CD is very lovely.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Paul Kogut, Turn of Phrase, with George Mraz and Lewis Nash

Turn of Phrase (Blujazz 3395) is what happens when you turn three stellar artists loose in the studio and they are in the mood to play. It's one of those situations where it hardly matters what, could be "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and it would still sound beautiful. Well of course it isn't that that they play. Instead it's a series of appropriate and nicely turned originals by guitarist Paul Kogut, which he, George Mraz (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums) sink their teeth into over a long and swinging set.

Kogut is a guitarist in the inventive currents of the mainstream. He doesn't especially sound like anybody. He winds genuinely creative improvisational lines that owe something to the past exemplifications of Wes Montgomery, Abercrombie, Hall, Metheny and such. This is only to say that he is in the tradition of changes-based guitar masters (with an occasional jolt of electricity thrown in) and he holds his own.

George Maraz and Lewis Nash need no introduction to Jazz savvy readers. Both are exceptional players and they sound terrific with Paul on these numbers.

In fact it all sounds rather terrific. This one will get you going.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Anna Le, Phil Manzanera, Nth Entities

Poetry recitation with music, if done right, serves to widen the impact of both elements. The music illustrates the poetry, the recitation turns the music into more literal sound painting than it otherwise might be on its own. Anna Le and Phil Manzanera's collaboration Nth Entities (Expression EXPCD30) is like that. Each element expands and fills out its counterpart.

Anna Le writes a poetry of hip realism, of her take on the now in which we exist, hip-hopless word spinning that does not build castles of exotic syntactic imagery as much as it strips away paint and veneer to present a more stark image of her-viewing-world. Phil Manzanera, best known as lead guitarist with Roxy Music, weaves an evocative web of musical soundscapes, contemporary and sensual, nearly psychedelic in ways that our electric music has evolved into when it is "serious" about itself, orchestral in scope.

The poetry-music paying tribute to Hendrix is the most palpably pleasing. But it all resonates as something far beyond our daily usual music dosage of palatable pablum.

Is Anna Le a poet for the ages? I don't know. Is Phil Manzanera's musical concoction destined to be shot into outer space as evidence to would-be roving aliens that we humans are like this and that? I don't know. All that doesn't really matter right now. All I know is that the poetry-musical collaboration and the poetry-image booklet it is packaged in is a prime creative act of our times, interesting, compelling, provocative, captivating.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Anna Estrada, Volando

World citizen and jazz vocalist Anna Estrada returns for a new recording up today: Volando (First Flight Productions FFP 003). Arranger Ray Scott and a shifting array of musicians give Anna a hiply Latin-jazzed carpet over which she gives out with a pleasing medley of Latin and songbook-rock standards.

She has a straightforward but nuanced vocal instrument which is shown to very good advantage here. The songs range from "Wild is the Wind" to Lennon and McCartney's "Happiness is a Warm Gun/I Want You." Then there are the always-nice-to-hear-done-well Latin gems like "Mais Que Nada".

This is not a record to set the world on fire, particularly. But it is very, very nice. Latin Jazz crossover listeners take note.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Elina Duni Quartet, Matane Malit

A number of years ago I had the good fortune of being assigned at Cadence a review article devoted to a CD release by the Albanian singer Elina Duni. Not many were familiar with her then but I certainly became enamored with her voice and her music, an intriguing reworking of traditional Albanian folk music combined with modern jazz.

So naturally I was pleased to find that she had just recorded her debut for ECM, Matane Malit. It plays on my computer as I write this.

First off I am happy to say that her music continues to grow. This new one is a furthering of the folk-jazz meld that she was involved with on the earlier recording.

Elina vocalizes here with a piano trio headed by long-time collaborator pianist Colin Vallon. The band is quite receptive to her re-arrangement of traditional songs and new music written in a similar style. The blend of Elina's beautiful, very nuanced vocal instrument with the trio is such that there is an unprecidented resonance between contemporary modal jazz and folk strain. It is music that manages to be quite striking.

Meters are sometime irregular, odd, as is characteristic of indigenous Eastern European music as a whole and the band makes good use of these platforms to leverage a good rhythmic feeling. But whatever the meter every song stands out as an outstanding vehicle for Elina's vocal subtlety and the hipness of the band's arrangements and feel.

This is music to warm the soul. You should most definitely hear it.

It so happens that Elina and band are touring the States just now, starting tomorrow. You can catch them at the following venues:

October 23 - Seattle, WA - Earshot Jazz at Poncho Concert Hall at Cornish College of the Arts
October 24 - Portland, OR - Ivories
October 26 - Ann Arbor, MI- Edgefest at Kerrytown Concert Hall
October 28 - Baltimore, MD - An Die Musik
October 30 - New York, NY- Drom

Friday, October 19, 2012

Micachu and the Shapes, Never

Mica Levi, known as Micachu, and her band the Shapes enter the ring with their second studio effort Never (Rough Trade).

It's hard hitting industrial-electronic-avant-pop, if you want some sort of label. Micachu plays a prepared "half-guitar" (an acoustic with a short neck?) and other homemade instruments and there is an electric component too. The band gets rolling, then she sings some attractive post-wave punkoid vocals overtop it all.

It's one of the best things to come out of England for a while, I think. It's a kind of zombie-robot pop that's put together with skill and creative imagination.

I won't hype you. It takes a few listens to catch the wave. A first hearing may sound confusing or chaotic to you. But if you stick with it, it hangs together in good ways.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Diamond Terrifier, Kill the Self that Wants to Kill Yourself

Diamond Terrifier is Sam Hillmer. It's Sam Hillmer playing alto sax and maybe a tenor and/or a baritone? It's Sam Hillmer with a bunch of pedals and effects, what used to be called electronics, and is still called electronics by those who prefer the term. I don't care. There sounds like other things are going on on this 30-something minute recording, but I guess that's a keyboard or a sequencer driving the tones? Again. I don't care, really.

It's Sam Hillmer coming out of the noise scene, unaffected by jazz for the most part. I have no idea what that means, but the press sheet says something like that, so I thought I'd mention it to you.

Oh, the CD album is Diamond Terrifier's Kill the Self That Wants to Kill Yourself (Northern Spy CD 026).

His sax playing is free and noisy, for the most part. The electronics are atmospheric and sometimes melodically-harmonically pivotal to the music at hand.

Free sorts of things prevail, but at the beginning and end there are structural openings and closings.

I liked it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ray Parker, Swingin' Never Hurt Nobody

Switching styles is an integral part of my listening habits. Like my life, my blogs reflect the wide range of music I tend to pay attention to. Today is no exception, in that we are switching over to a slightly different style of music.

It's acoustic bassist Ray Parker with a drummer-less trio of Russell George on the violin and Jon Hart at the guitar, putting together a set of infectiously joyful swing tunes for Swingin' Never Hurt Nobody (self-released).

All three have very good facility and put it to fine use on this album of mostly standards. Swing is the thing from Django to Stuff Smith and beyond. These are players who quite clearly take delight working in the earlier style and they do so with a great deal of panache, charm, and skill.

Ray has a full-fledged, all-over approach to the bass and shows himself to good advantage as an integral part of this trio. Russell George and Jon Hart are no slouches on their instruments either, so all goes well.

A treat for the ears. Bravo!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sam Kulik, Escape from Society

Sam Kulik did something weird. He advertised on Craiglist, inviting people to submit lyrics that he promised he would set to music for his upcoming album. He picked twelve, added two of his own, and got to work. The result is the otherwordly pop-rock-psych album Escape from Society (Hot Cup 113).

It's a pretty uncanny album of mental adventure, yet catchy. "More than Your Dog" is about somebody trying to find what (his partner?) loves more than her dog, for example.

The music is sung by Sam in a pleasant tenor voice that reminds me just a little of Rickie Nelson, though one would never picture Ozzie approving of these songs!

It sounds like it could have been a lost session of an underground would-be of 1968, a good one. The lyrics and ambiance give out that vibe.

It may not find its way onto top 40 radio (!) and of course that's the point. The lyrics ignore what a pop lyric is supposed to be and go their wayward ways. The music is full blown, well arranged pop-rock with a weird psychedelic slant, especially at the end.

It's great fun! Recommended if you want something very left-of-center.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Howard Shore and Metric, Metropolis

Composer Howard Shore has consistently produced movie soundtracks that have inherent musical interest well beyond their eminently effective function in the films they were made for.

His latest finds him uniting with the alt-rock-electronic band Metric for Cronenberg's Delillo-inspired Cosmopolis (Howe 1008).

This one has beat and ambiance, youthful vocals and soundscaped terrains both icy and shimmering. It's a good listen on its own, for sure.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Alison Wedding, This Dance

Alison Wedding is a rather remarkable singer-songwriter with a strong jazz inflection. Her new one, This Dance (Ground Up 2012), puts her in a select league of great voices who write musically rich, very personal songs.

Michael League of Snarky Puppy produced and arranged the date and that worked out very well--especially for the full-fledged arrangements that retain the soul and drive of Alison's music but also give the songs a pleasing tapestry of sound colors.

This is a theme album, centering around love lost, heartbreak, disconnect. It is movingly direct in that sense, yet very melodically and harmonically alive, advanced, memorable.

Alison's voice is bell clear, warm and spot on, yet also has something very identifiable about it.

Alison has all the talent for success. I hope she achieves it! This album is a high note on the way to what I hope is a long and fruitful career.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bruce Kaphan Quartet

Something a little different today: a CD from pedal steel guitarist Bruce Kaphan and his quartet. The album is self-titled (Wiggling Air Records 40060).

Bruce was initially captivated with the San Francisco proto-jamband style he heard growing up, has done countless sessions, and returns for a second album effort that shows him off nicely in a rock-jazz fuzoid jamband-ish setting. The quartet has good players but it's especially Bruce's time to shine, and he does so with a mix of originals, plus interesting versions of "Birdland", the Weather Report number, and "Jessica", the Allman Brothers perennial.

Here's a good player showing the versatility and beauty of the pedal steel. Hey, sounds good.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Brian Wilson, Songwriter 1969-1982, DVD

Brian Wilson is a complex character. He is not easily pigeonholed. Beach Boy leader, writer and producer of go-go teenage surf, sun, car and angst songs, art song composer-arranger of Pet Sounds and Smile, troubled soul...Brian Wilson: Songwriter 1969-82 (Sexy Intellectual SIDVD 574) documents the volatile period in Brian's career when after abandoning the album Smile uncompleted, Brian has a breakdown of sorts and draws within himself, then makes a series of comebacks and recording ventures with mixed success.

There are various forces at work, as the documentary shows rather clearly. Mike Love and the record label want more happy, breezy, early style hits and/or the endless re-presentation of past successes, the WIlson brothers are generally for broadening horizons and new creativity, and Brian himself bounces between the need to continue to innovate as an artist, total withdrawal and resigned moments where he reverts to old Beach Boy ways.

It's not an especially happy story in those years. He creates a few classic tracks that perhaps make up for it all but generally this is not his finest hour.

Nonetheless the documentary does a decent job juggling the various influences on his life and looks at his erratic output with critical honesty.

Recommended for all Brian Wilson fans.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sound Liberation, "Need" and "Breath" from the Album "Days"

When a composer gets into R&B/Rock/Pop you expect something interesting. And with Gene Pritsker's Sound Liberation you get it. The singles "Need" and "Breath" from the upcoming album Days (Composer's Concordance) give you something of substance. Chanda Rule has a very appealing and original voice and she is out front on both songs. The songs in turn have nice twists and turns you'd expect from Gene. And the arrangements have grit and musicality, with some especially good cello writing.

So what else to say except this is nice music that you should give a listen to. I wish Sound Liberation all success on this one!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Alan Silva, Keiko Higuchi, Sabu Toyozumi, Takuo Tanikawa, "Crimson Lip"

I posted on this album last March 15th in relation to the snippets that were available as a free download. All I said there is true of the full version (Improvising Beings ib08) which the label was kind enough to send my way.

Keiko Higuchi convinces and plays an important role as freewheeling vocalist. Alan sounds great on bass and adds plenty of texture and ambiance with the synths. Takuo's guitar and Sabu's drums fill out the ensemble in key ways.

This excels as ensemble freedom--it's the sum of all parts that come together at any given moment. And that sum is an original mix of electric and acoustic, iconic and iconoclastic, exploratory and directionally driven.

The full version maps out its own free musical territory and it does it consistently and with originality.

It gets better with every listen, too. That is a sign of what this is--deep, worthwhile music!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Many Arms, Exemplary Thrash Metal on Tzadik

Guitarist Nick Millevoi, electric bassist John DeBlase, and drummer Ricardo Lagomasino comprise the super-power trio Many Arms. Their self-titled, latest release came out on Tzadik this past spring and it really jumps out at you!

Much of the music involves breakneck, asymmetically endless rifflines that fracture, circle back, fracture again and go on from there in a remarkably driving, heavy way. It's high energy non-stop virtuoso thrash that will certainly get your attention.

The middle cut, "In Dealing with the Laws of Physics on Planet Earth" breaks the mood with a series of sustained, slow melodic arpeggios on guitar that the whole band eventually takes up. It's a haunting piece.

All-in-all this is scorching and substantial power trio art. Anyone with voltometer ears must hear this! Then track down the earlier ones if you flip on this one.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Bob Dylan and the Band, Down in the Flood, DVD

The story of the intersection of the Band and Bob Dylan is an interesting one. It is told in some detail on the documentary DVD Down in the Flood (Sexy Intellectual 571).

It all more or less starts with semi-obscure rockabilly artist Ronnie Hawkins and his migration to Canada for a long series of gigs. His backup band, the Hawks, includes drummer Levon Helm and, eventually, is replenished with the Canadian musicians who were to be known as the Band. Meanwhile Bob Dylan makes a decision to go electric and eventually hires the Band (sans Helm) for a grueling European-Australian tour that was exhausting and not always well-received (there were those who thought his electrification was a sellout).

The DVD covers all that with good documentary footage, interviews, etc., and then goes on to tell of the important aftermath, where Dylan and the Band settle in Woodstock, the Band install themselves in the "Big Pink" basement studio and go on to do an experimental series of roots-and-beyond music tapes with Dylan and, eventually, to begin working on their own music.

There is a kind of cultural break that occurs with Dylan as it did with the Dead after Altamont--and others as well. There is a reaction, a satiation with throbbing rock electricity, with the excesses of psychedelic-Dionysian communal ecstasy and a look backwards to more acoustic fundamentals and down-to-earth whole-grain-brain alternatives. The DVD covers that break for Dylan and the Band, as well as the creative aftermath.

In a DVD that runs nearly two hours we go away with a nice encapsulation of the scene as Dylan and the Band experienced and shaped it. It's an important piece of rock music history. They do a good job with it. A must for Dylan/Band fans. Interesting even if you are not that.