Friday, November 30, 2012

Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship, Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey

I don't envy creative spirits who decide to do a Christmas/Holiday album. The pressure to follow the well traveled routes through the typical carols is hard to resist, but how many things can you do with "Jingle Bells"? There is probably a finite number. One of the zanier WFMU DJs a few years ago decided to play as many versions of "Jingle Bells" back-to-back as he could lay hands on. I didn't happen to be listening at the time but I do suspect the effect would eventually be something like water boarding. "I am drowning in Holiday Cheer! No I am not!"

So then hurrah for the Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship and their Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (self released). Not only is there no version of "Jingle Bells" whatsoever, the carols chosen include some very old, under-recorded ones like "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming" and "Song of Mary." And the big band and smaller band within pull out some very interesting arrangements. There are world elements, advanced sorts of things, nice touches like the use of counterpoint, and real modern jazz going on, good jazz. And for you guitarists, Dan Baraszu plays a prominent role in the mix. Just sayin'.

Well I'll confess that Carla Bley's Christmas album pretty much blew my head off a few years ago--those reharmonizations!--but this Will Scruggs album is up there. It's a keeper. It's different. It goes someplace with it all. Cheers!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

SH.TG.N, "Sh.Tg.N"

Spooky metal psychedelic jazz-rock? That's what SH.TG.N is about, on their inaugural Sh.Tg.N (Moon June 046). Belgian keyboardist Antoine Guenet, who is also a member of The Wrong Object, put together the band a few years ago and they have a good go of it on this first record.

Antoine joins Fulco Ottervanger, lead vocals, Wim Segers, vibes, Yannick de Pauw, electric guitar, Dries Geusens, bass guitar, and Simon Segers, drums. This is well put-together music with an active comp-arrangement factor and some scary keys, blistering guitar, and rapid sequence vibes adding a distinctive sound.

I've listened to this one five times now and it's growing on me. There is nothing hackneyed or cliched, it's pretty out there much of the time and it has nice energy and plenty of musical content. It feels like a band going somewhere, but where that will be it may take a few albums to reveal. Meanwhile, happy ears from this one.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sao Paulo Underground, Tres Cabeças Loucuras

Sao Paulo Underground takes the fertile and endlessly productive Brazilian strains of samba and other indigenous outcroppings and combines them with modern electric jazz in some very new, creative ways. This you can hear to good effect on their latest, third album Tres Cabeças Loucuras (available as CD or LP)(Rune 325).

The group features cornet-composer extraordinaire Rob Mazurek, who has been doing some remarkable music in and around Chicago as well as around the world in various configurations (covered in these blogs), including his large ensemble Exploding Star Orchestra.

He teamed with Mauricio Takara, initially as a duet, to form the Sao Paulo Underground. The first recording was a duet (Takara is a very together drummer and percussionist, plays the cavaquinho, the small guitar often featured in Brazilian samba ensembles, and joins with Rob in giving the group sound colors from a battery of electronics). By now the band is more fully fleshed-out with the addition of Guilherme Granado (keyboards, electronics, samplers) and Richard Ribeiro (drums).

The third album is an unusual mix of rhythmic excitement, cornet-wielding goodness, hip tunes and neo-psychedelics. It's an excellent listen, modern and electric without a trace of cliche.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Terakaft, Kel Tamasheq

If you like a groove and you dig the blues, you are halfway to liking comtemporary African music. That is, especially in the hands of Terakaft, an electric-trad amalgam that takes traditional Tuareg Shaharan music, adds electric guitars and bass in place of the traditional stringed instruments, and rocks out!

The new one Kel Tamasheq (World Village) is as good or even better than the last. The vocals have soul in the Tuareg definition, and the riffing sounds absolutely hip on electric instruments. They've of course listened to blues and rock and found a way to hit hard with tradition and modernity hand-in-hand.

This is neigh irresistible. It will give guitarists and their friends a real jolt and keep everybody in the pocket who has ears and heart. Don't miss it!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Linsey Alexander, Been There Done That

The rootsy urban blues lives on. You only have to look to Linsey Alexander's recent Been There, Done That (Delmark 822) to feel it, to know it. Born in Mississipi, Alexander made the trek up to Chicago in 1960, and he is going strong today.

He fronts a hard rockin' soul blues group in the traditional electric groove, playing some tastefully stinging, hard edged guitar lines and singing with soul. He's got the good originals and everybody gets the spirit on this one.

It may be Black Friday in the department stores today, but Linsey's making it Blue Friday for me! Dig on this one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Rolling Stones Under Review, 1975-1983, The Ronnie Wood Years (Pt. 1), DVD

For those into Stones history, there's a new DVD out called The Rolling Stones Under Review, 1975-83, the Ronnie Wood Years (Pt. 1) (Sexy Intellectual SIDVD 575). As the title makes clear it takes a chronological look at the band, its personal interactions, musical output, and general fate in years that were decidedly mixed ones for the band, but perhaps also the last period that the Stones had a direct influence on the rock world through "hit records" and high-charting songs.

It is the time when guitarist Ronnie Wood came on board, they scored a disco hit that somehow managed to be more Stones than disco, and they had perhaps the final prototypical rock success with "Wind Me Up" and the album it came out of. At the same time Keith Richard was in a low ebb, with a major drug bust and a serious addiction problem, while Mick Jagger lived the opulent life style of a posh rock star in NYC.

Through rock critic commentary, footage and a cohesive narrative, the era is given 115 minutes and the full treatment. I found it interesting and worthwhile to experience the summing up of the era. It is rather well done. This is something more for Stone fans than a general audience, but I suspect you can gather that by the title. Still, it's a piece of rock history and there are insights on the aging of rock that any student of the music should appreciate.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Hammer Klavier Trio, Rocket in the Pocket

Today we have the sophomore effort from the Hamburg-based progressive jazz Hammer Klavier Trio, Rocket in the Pocket (Jan Matthies Records). They are pianist Boris Netsvetaev, bassist Phil Steen, and drummer Kai Bussenius. I write "progressive" because that seems like a good word to describe this sort of group. Influenced by Monk, Nichols, perhaps Brubeck, partaking in electrification as it strikes them, combining an improvisational stance with an emphasis on non-traditional compositions-arrangements.

They are in line with other such trios like Bad Plus and even the Necks in the way they genre defy. There's a bit of the classical in there as well as rock influences. To their credit they do not sound like other groups in this progressive trio mold. They have compositions and arrangements that are moving in original directions. Yet they share with other such groups attention to the more advanced ensemble rhythmic feels available out there included meter shifts and unexpected emphases.

They come across as well-directed, musically astute, and well on the way to self-realization as a trio on this second outing. If you are into the prog jazz trio thing you should definitely check this one out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Efterklang, Piramida

The latest Efterklang album Piramida (4AD) is both a fascinating concept album and a musical triumph of sorts. Essentially they went on a nine-day expedition a year ago last August to the island Spitsbergen, located near the North Pole. They explored the falling-to-ruin ghost town Piramida, which was rapidly abandoned in the '90s and now stands unoccupied.

This trip and the enigma of the ruin, through samples and general inspiration, form the concept around the album.

The music itself is a kind of alternative masterwork. It has the songs, synthetic or otherwise fullness of arrangement, and a haunting way about it. It is a lyrical joy and a definite innovation in the rock-post-prog world.

The music leaves me a bit speechless, so I don't have a lot to say about it right now. It has an elegant emptiness, a hollowed-out feeling of loss to it that reverberates with a world mood, or at least a personal one. It's pretty damned brilliant, I would say. But you listen and judge for yourself.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hush Arbors, Two of Us Riding Nowhere

Today begins coverage of a label known as New Atlantis. They have a very healthy sense of adventure and I'll be taking a look at some of their recent releases.

Up now is singer-songwriter Hush Arbors (aka Keith Wood) and his cassette release Two of Us Riding Nowhere (New Atlantis cas 005). It's Keith running through some of his alt quasi-folkish songs, picking and strumming an acoustic guitar, singing in a personally distinctive high-range falsetto. He is joined quite ably and effectively by acoustic bassist Jason Ajemian, who adds much to the blend with his appealingly fat, woody tone and primal note choice.

It's music that hangs together nicely, where lyrics are unusual and worth listening to, where the acoustic folkie songwriter tradition gets a worthy and worthwhile update.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Michael Feinberg, The Elvin Jones Project

Anyone who has explored Elvin Jones's seminal presence on the modern jazz scene in some depth, live or in recorded form, eventually realizes that an important component of his sound, his groove, his structured sort of freedom, depends upon his interaction with key bassists. His way of taking it further depended on the bedrock of intuitive and perhaps explicit interactive roles that Elvin and the bass players developed in his groups over time.

Young bassist Michael Feinberg in The Elvin Jones Project (Sunnyside 1325) has assembled a first-rate quintet to pay tribute to the master and also highlight his musical relationship with bassists Jimmy Garrison, Richard Davis, Gene Perla, George Mraz and Dave Holland.

Those who care about such things will hear the results in those terms, at least part of the time, because Feinberg and drumming master Billy Hart achieve something of that creative tension that Elvin and his bassists achieved. At the same time all lovers of modern jazz should appreciate what is going on in this set in a wider sense, for it is music of immediate impact.

Feinberg chose his musicians wisely for this project. Hart has the expanded swing feel that is certainly related to Elvin's on the set, but of course he is a master drummer in his own right. Tim Hagens on trumpet, George Garzone on tenor, and Leo Genovese on piano have their own take on the sort of music that Elvin and the Trane/post-Trane players have played with such creativity and conviction over the years. As an added plus, guitarist Alex Wintz fits in well on his two guest appearances.

Like the best of Elvin's outfits this is a group at doesn't just solo over rhythm, the soloing and rhythm-ing are intertwined in involved ways, ways that define the music. And everybody sounds at home and in very active sympathy with the music at hand. Feinberg shows himself a most excellent bassist, up there with some heavyweights and holding his own.

The song choices fit perfectly. There are a couple of Elvin gems, a Feinberg original, then Trane's "Miles Mode," some goodies by Jones sidemen Grossman and Foster and the Trane-Jones associated ballad "Nancy with the Laughing Face."

Of course the joy of this musical outing is countered by the recurring realization that Elvin is no longer with us. A great man, a great musician that changed everything....I'm sure he would have dug this record. Maybe he's somewhere up there digging it now.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Luce Trio, Pieces, Vol. 1

There are albums that come along to remind you that the creative music scene lives on and "business as usual" is something that may be happening out there much of the time, but not all of the time.

Pieces, Vol. 1 (Musaeum Clausum) by the Luce Trio is one of those. It was recorded in reverberant St. Ann and the Holy Trinity church just about a year ago today. And what comes out of that session is a very ambient improvisational take on early and baroque music.

The trio consists of Jon De Lucia on saxophones and compositions, Ryan Ferreira, electric guitar, and Chris Tordini, acoustic bass. The three have worked on some very moving recompositions of music by Handel, Dowland and Bach, plus De Lucia's own ambient interludes that amplify and expand the mood of the set.

This is not an album where you should expect machine-gunning bop licks at a mad tempo. The music takes its time and sounds sensitively but emphatically in the echoed cathedral. De Lucia's soprano-alto has a lovely gentleness and liquid tone that is well matched by Ryan's subtly adventurous line-cluster creating/part rendering and Tordini's matter-of-fact yet essential lower end.

It's music that will wow you little-by-little. The music moves and so you are moved. A beautiful disk!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Elliott Sharp's Terraplane, Sky Road Songs

Terraplane is Elliott Sharp's blues-rock outfit. It goes way back but has been more active in recent years.

Their new one, Sky Road Songs (Yellowbird), makes an energetic foray deeper into the thicket of possibilities, with some soul-like numbers, some heavier than average blues rock, good guitar work from Elliott and a guest appearance by the late Hubert Sumlin who tragically left us not long ago.

There are very decent vocals by the likes of Tracie Morris and Eric Mingus, sometimes following a more-than-blues song format (soul/rock/out-rock) that should bring this record into the rock-soul radio airwaves orbit.

So it's more than just blues but like anything Elliott Sharp does it's ultra-solid music. And the bluesier old-meets-new kicks are a total post-Beefheartian blast.

For those around the New York City area this weekend, they will be playing a gig this Sunday (November 11th) at Joe's Pub, starting at 9:30 PM. Catch it for good sounds.

Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Live at Rockpalast 1982, DVD Set

Funk. Funk. Funk. We took a look in the last two days at two different funk outfits going at it. Today a third possibility: the Afro-Carib-New-Wave-Funk of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Live at Rockpalast 1982 (MIG 9052). It's a two-DVD set of the band live on the West German TV show-concert in two long sets from June and October 1982. The two DVD set is reasonably priced and gives you lots of music plus an interview with the front liners of the group.

This is a band that benefits greatly from the DVD presence, as they have a vibrant visual impact as well as some strong performances throughout.

It's a band that was pretty big back then, of course. They combined Latin-Carib elements with a kind of New Wave funk that Talking Heads and the B-52s were doing at the time. This is a tight, smokingly large band with lots of percussion, horns, a great guitar-bass-keys-drums underpinning, and the visual-vocal impact of the lovely Coconuts vocal trio, vibist-vocalist Coati Mundi and guitarist-vocalist Kid Creole.

It's some kicking music, fun and rocking out. You might expect any minute that they would break into "YMCA" but thankfully they never do and at the core they were much, much hipper than that. Check it out if you like. I think you'll enjoy!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lettuce, FLY

As those know who are in the know, there is more than one kind of funk. There's the classic James Brownian kind, updated for today as we saw yesterday in the review for the new Maceo Parker CD, and then there are other offshoots from the branch. Today's CD takes something from the classical Brown variety, then gets a couple of other influences into the mix: the Herbie Hancock Headhunters jazz-influenced funk and the evolved big horn section funk of Tower of Power.

It's not that simple because the band Lettuce have some spacey aspects and they get an updated quasi-big-band sound going, but their album FLY (Royal Family) does its funky thing in fine fashion. It will funkifie you for sure.

Nice tight heft, killer horn riffs, good arrangements and a popping rhythm section. You may have heard it all before but they'll probably make you glad to hear it all again. If you've got the mood, they've got the groove.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Maceo Parker, Soul Classics, with the WDR Big Band

Funk. Funky. I am talking not of the Horace Silver gospelly thing that directed much jazz into a rootsy zone, but the thing James Brown had so much to do with creating, that still is very much with us, that in the right hands soars and rocks the house.

Saxophonist Maceo Parker was there in James Brown's band when it all started happening. He's been doing hip things on his own since then. If there are "right hands," Maceo surely is the right hands.

But he can not do it alone. His new live recording with the formidable WDR Big Band, Soul Classics (Razor & Tie), puts all that in place, then steps on it to put it in overdrive.

It's a collection of great old funk numbers by James, Stevie and such, and they kick it hard!

Some beautiful soul sax, hot soloists, a band on fire, nice arrangements, and the rhythm team pushing on it, with soulful vocals from Maceo himself. . . that's what this is all about. It cooks! If you've become a little blase with the funk thing, this will revive you, I am telling you true.

You'll get good and cranked with this one, trust me.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sylvain Leroux, Quatuor Creole, Featuring Karl Berger

Pardon my week-long silence. Hurricane Sandy came to our shores and wreaked some havoc. Almost lost a roof but thankfully did not. Spent six days without electricity, heat, internet or phone, a rather sobering experience I would not want repeated. We are more than ever dependent upon incoming voltage in our everyday lives, which this week underscored bluntly. All sympathy goes out to those less fortunate than I facing the storm and its aftermath.

The week gets off to a suitably bright and upbeat start with an excellent album of Afro-jazz by Sylvain Leroux. Quatuor Creole (Engine 046) puts together a very compatible quartet of Sylvain Leroux on tambin (Fula flute), flute, alto sax, khaen, dozon ngoni, Karl Berger on piano and vibes, Sergo Decius on conga and percussion, and Matt Pavolka, contrabass.

The band works together for a lively Afro groove that will appeal to all with a sense of time. The quartet format gives it an intimate quality but the music rollocks and rocks steadily with tribal and Afrobeat influences front and center.

Sylvain sounds convincing and very together on his instruments; Karl Berger is right there with nicely ethnic touches and his good sense at piano as well as expectedly rangy and compelling vibes; Sergo Decius plays very hip congas and hand drums, making this session pop; and Matt Pavolka gives the groove that all-important woody bottom with taste, drive, dexterity and a nicely fat tone.

Afro-jazz that ranges far and wide, from a Bach quotation to infectious groove-reveling? You'll find it in abundance on this one. It's sheer joy!