Thursday, December 20, 2012

Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements, DVD

What is it about a rock band that can get the attention, devotion, even adulation of music fans, fellow musicians and important critics and yet have, comparatively speaking, a small commercial impact? Film maker Gordon Bechard asks this question about the Replacements on Color Me Obsessed (MVD 2-DVD 5533D). What emerges from the nearly two-hour film and many extras is a full picture of a moment in the rock underground.

All this without a single second of music or any interview footage or even images of the band. It is a kind of music reception history documentary. That it works fully is a testament to Bechard's vision and the extraordinary impact the Replacements had (have) on people.

In the process the story of the band's career from first demo to breakup is told in successive interviews from first-hand obsessors--those who were a part of the scene from producers and record execs to floor-level fans.

A picture emerges of four musically modest young men who somehow transcended their limitations at the same time as they succumbed to them--and in the course of their heyday captured in song and sound the alienation of people who don't quite fit in, who disfunction yet create a kind of art that has absolutely no pretensions to being art, and comes out of their dysfunctional stance.

It's one of the very best rockumentaries I have seen. You leave the film with clear feelings about why this band, why people in this generation needed the Replacements, why rock needs a band like this, with rawness, balls, yet very immediate sensitivity about the life around them, to regenerate the scene.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, No New Tunes

Not only is Jon Lundbom a jazz-contemporary electric guitarist at the forefront of new practice, his band Big Five Chord, individually and collectively, is one of the most important around today. And their latest, No New Tunes (Hot Cup LP or download), is perhaps the strongest album yet. Now I could just leave it at that and go get another cup of coffee, but I suspect that I should go into detail, no?

First the band: Jon Lundbom, guitar, Jon Irabagon, alto and soprano saxophones, Bryan Murray, tenor and balto! saxophones, Moppa Elliott, bass, Dan Monaghan, drums. The rhythm section is very hip. The Irabagon-Murray sax team is terrific. And Jon gets plenty of chances to show that he can (and does) line with originality and edge. He turns in some beautiful solos here. Then there are times when Irabagon and/or Murray play with your head a little. They may be blazing into a solo or solo succession with all sorts of imaginative twists and suddenly you realize that they are putting you on just a hair, but they are dead serious at the same time. It's the tradition, yet it is inside the tradition, taking it outside and making a humorous aside all at the same time. Well, you know Rollins has always done something on these lines when he felt it. There are some very uncanny moments like that. Of course these guys often have that kind of humor to them, but on this one they top themselves.

OK, then there are the compositions and soloing routines. First rate. Sometimes they pull out the rock stops and get very heavy. Sometimes they do less electric avant things. It all comes together, regardless of what.

All else can be said and maybe has been said by a critic who works for some big-name magazine, newspaper, etc. And gets paid and all that. But listen, my street cred by now should make you take me as seriously as Jon and crew. Because if I can say all this while I am scuffling, then you know I mean it. No shoot, this is the album to get.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Under the Psycamore

New Swedish Neo-Prog Rock? The debut album of Under the Psycamore (self-titled) (7D Media), out recently, gives you a very nice bundle of that.

They aren't into the bunch of notes speed thing so much as they come up with music that lays right, with not uninteresting chord progressions and thematics, very good musicianship, an edge when warranted, and some excellent vocal harmonies. They go for songs that stand apart as prog without being particularly reminiscent of others. They are original.

To me those are ingredients of a band that is very worth hearing. Under the Psycamore is that.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rafiq Bhatia, Strata (EP), Yes it Will (LP/CD)

I wasn't familiar with American guitarist Rafiq Bhatia until somebody kindly hipped me to his premiere recordings, Strata (EP) (Rest Assured) and Yes it Will (LP/CD) (Rest Assured).

I am so glad to be hearing his music. His playing, like his composing/arranging, is exhilaratingly singular. Everything comes out of his very evolved, very declamatory finger-picking style. Rafiq will finger pick a complicated pattern where another guitarist-composer would supply a couple of notes or chords. So it's an extremely ornate style but also one which has the rhythmic push of the in-time picking patterns.

Rafiq covers a jazz-rock of his own making. There's a little hip-hop in there and a hip band, outness and in-ness combined in interesting ways and very memorable compositions.

This is music with a real flair, on every level. Get the EP and the LP!!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

José Luis Montón, Solo Guitarra

The spirit and tradition of flamenco guitar finds some brilliant extensions for today in the music of José Luis Montón, whose Solo Guitarra (ECM 2246) I have been listening to with great pleasure.

As the title makes clear, it is just Maestro Montón center stage with his nylon-stringed guitar in a series of pieces he composed and a singular arrangement of a Bach Air.

All the technique of the flamenco greats is implied and sometimes directly invoked in Montón's exceptional playing. But there is a modern, original element at play in the music too, in the more elaborate melodic details, in the more developed harmonic spelling, in some of the finger picking.

It's a beautiful recording in every sense, sure to grab the ears and hearts of guitarists and their friends everywhere.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Filipe Felizardo, Guitar Soli for the Moa and the Frog

Unaccompanied electric guitar recitals on disk occur less frequently than one might expect. Compared to solo piano excursions, for example, they are relatively rare. So those that come along generally get my attention, assuming I get access and such.

Today we have one, Filipe Felizardo's Guitar Soli for the Moa and the Frog (Shhpuma 001 CD). Felizardo was not familiar to me previous to this disk, but I am glad I've connected.

This is a moody, spacious, zen-like venture into atmospheric tones and the silence that surrounds them. The first six segments come together as a bluesy statement of some power. Track seven changes the mood to an acoustic jaunt with the guitar sounding like an oud. The final track returns as a kind of coda to the initial foray.

It's not a get-your-yayas exercise in technical wizardry we have here. What it is is music, and a good go of it at that. It is contemplative. It enriches the time you spend listening to it. That's a good thing these days.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Joy Mega, Forever is Something Inside of You

There are good things to be found these days with music that dwells within the interstices of categories. Take Joy Mega and their Forever is Inside of You (New Atlantis). It's the brainchild of bassist-vocalist-composer Jason Ajemian, who straddles the rock and new music/jazz camps in various very good ways and decided to combine rock/alt song and avant freedom with this group.

It's a pretty heavy hitting lineup: Jason on bass, Chad Taylor, drums, Matt Bauder, tenor/reeds, Mary Halvorson, electric guitar, Jessica Pavone, violin. Those who know the scene will recognize that this is a group of some of the most innovative improvisers around today, all bandleaders in their own right and major proponents on their instruments.

Well, that's the specs, so to speak. What you get music-wise is the successful results of the categoric experimentation. Jason's voice is in the raw, direct court and his songs bounce against the avant improv in unexpected, always interesting, and very creative ways.

If you don't give a hoot about categories and thrive on the new however it conjoins, listen to this one a bunch of times. It's seriously different.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Song Sparrow Research, Second Album

Today an alt band from Seattle who have named their second album simply Song Sparrow Research (self released), which also happens to be the name of the band.

This is a brightly jangley and deceptively straightforward guitar centered rock band that has some real songs that can give things a twist and get in your craw.

The musicianship is tight and the arrangements direct in a band-oriented way, but that can be refreshing and in fact is. The singer reminds just slightly of Morrissey but ultimately goes his own way and carries a distinctive signature sound.

It's a good sign that I've heard this one a bunch of times and it continues to grow on me. It's art rock and I hope it gets a good hearing out there.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dead Kenny G's, Gorelick

The Dead Kenny G's, as their name implies, have always had a refreshing iconoclastic sense. The recent 17-minute EP Gorelick (Royal Potato Family 1120) (12-inch EP vinyl) takes it even further.

It's a joyously snide, brashly loud punk-rock-jazz set with some raunchy band vocals, Luttenbacher anarchy and a very sizable edge on it.

It covers a fair amount of ground from riff rockers to outright punkers, from thrasher skronk to free onslaughts with a beat.

I like it. You might also.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Dylan LeBlanc, Cast the Same Old Shadow

If somebody writes songs that stick in the mind, and it's moody fare, and there's something about the voice and the arrangements that put it above the rest, then I'm there. That describes Dylan LeBlanc and his new album, Cast the Same Old Shadow (Rough Trade). I wont say Tim Buckley is what he sounds like, but he does have that upper range, his lyrics have something to them and he plays a kind of folkish guitar in accompaniment.

It has a slight country feel to it, especially when the petal steel is going, but it's more in alt rock territory with its quirkiness and edge.

Songs are what it's about. Songs about dreams, stories, movies for the ear and imagination....

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!

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.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Szilard Mezei, Mint amikor tavasz, When Spring

Today we have a most unusual original solo disk. It's Szilard Mezei playing unaccompanied viola and contrabass in a series of improvisation/compositions. Mint amikor tavasz/When Spring (Not Two 819-2) gives us a kind of intimate glimpse into Szilard's musical thinking.

It follows the avant improvisational muse in a variety of modes and moods. There are tumbling abstract cascades, melodically strong avant line weaves, and things somewhere in between. Throughout a vivid sense of both freedom and original structure prevails.

On viola Mezei is an original voice with a fully deliberate intonation that veers sometimes a bit from the tempered scale, but in consistent and fascinating ways. On viola and on bass he plays music that virtually defines his vision of modernity. His bass playing is of a piece with his conception of the music, and turns out to be technically proficient as well, a nice surprise given its status as a second instrument for him.

This disk, allowing for a concentrated series of listens, will give you cogently Mezei's original brilliance in a bare-bones context. Fascinating! Recommended.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spectrum Road, A Tribute to The Tony Williams Lifetime

When the Tony Williams Lifetime hit the ears of listeners in 1969 with their double-album release Emergency!, few people were prepared for it. Brilliant drummer Tony Williams had just left Miles Davis's band after a long tenure and was eager to try something of his own, something very different. He got together with then mostly unknown guitarist John McLaughlin and veteran organist Larry Young to make a music that was so unusual as to be inimitable. That first album sounded like nothing that had gone before. It was rock heavy yet rhythmically and harmo-melodically light years away from what was going on then. And Tony's vocals were...well they certainly weren't what you expected from jazz, rock or jazz-rock, as it was then known. The innovation took on life as improvisation, ensemble and song-form. It was NEW in the biggest sense, so much so that many audiences generally couldn't get on their wavelength when Lifetime first hit the venues.

Jack Bruce joined the band as the fourth member and bass-vocal powerhouse. The album Turn it Over followed. And it was a continuation of what they first set out to do. The band folded, Tony and Larry reformed with new members and the album Ego came to light, which had some masterpieces but was not completely on the level of what went before.

Many years have gone by since those days, and while those sides were enormously influential no band has ever come close to realizing the sound of the original Lifetime. Until now.

Jack Bruce has joined with guitarist Vernon Reid, organist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana to revisit the classic Lifetime music. The first CD is out, and they call themselves Spectrum Road (Palmetto).

They cover many of the significant numbers from the first three albums and one or two I do not recognize. Jack and Cindy do the vocals and the band gets it uncannily close in the ensemble to that original thrust. As individual players of significant clout, however, much of who they are, right now in 2012, individually and collectively, gets into the mix, especially in the solo sections. That's what you would expect and that's what works best in these sorts of situations, to my mind.

It's a very heady tribute to an incredibly important band, but more than that, it extends that original music in ways Tony would have liked. It's Lifetime music with the here and now built in.

And it's some landmark music, whichever way you look at it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sandra Nkake, Nothing for Granted

Sandra Nkake sings her own brand of soul, drawing on African roots freely, coming up with a blend all her own. Nothing for Granted (Jazz Village) showcases her music in moving ways. She has a distinctive vocal sound and her songs are equally singular. It's music of protest, love, intelligence.

It draws on soul roots but takes them in a new place, like Sade before, only as original and compelling in its own way.

This is music that cannot be easily described, except to say that it's Sandra Nkake music. Hear it!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mandingo Ambassadors, Tougna

Engine Records usually covers avant jazz, but they've got a kicking Afrobeat CD out, the Mandingo Ambassadors doing Tougna (Engine 047).

There's a rockingly hip foundation of electric bass, drums and conga-percussion, on top of which are some very hip guitarists, one who solos with style and facility. There are two wind players who can solo with plenty of credibility as well. Then there's the lead singer, Bebe Camara, who has the highlife-and-beyond style covered with soul. Mamady Kouyate is leader and one of the guitarists.

It's a West African sound, tempered by some of the classic Mid-African highlife classics. This is music that moves! A great record to get the party going, even if it's a party in your head.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Young, Dub Egg

The Young is a band. One of the ways you can tell is if they have a "The" before the name. But the moment you put their CD on the player, you know that this is a band, together in all the ways one hopes for.

It's a guitars-bass-drums-vocal outfit from Austin and Dub Egg (Matador) is their second album. I missed the first but must track it down after hearing this one.

It thrives on a lively interplay of all. The music is alt-indie-punkish fare with a hard-edged sound, vocals that have an informal, edgy faux insouciancy, and a very pleasing beyond-the-garage hardness tempered by song styling that fits the music-first-image-second persona of the band.

Those that still seek something real and undiluted in rockland should find these guys a good listen. I will file it under new serious rock outfits that most definitely do not s_ck!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cynthia Felton, Freedom Jazz Dance

There are new generations of singers on the scene now, lots of them. Few have the talent and capabilities of Cynthia Felton, as her new album Freedom Jazz Dance (Felton Entertainment 003) attests.

For this one she covers some great jazz and songbook standards like "Take Five," "Lost in the Stars," "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love," etc. She is well served by a cast of accompanists that include Cyrus Chestnut, Ernie Watts, Terri Lyne Carrington, Wallace Roney and other lesser known but no less sympathetic musicians. The arrangements are straightforward to allow her voice to shine brightly.

And it does. She has perfect intonation, soul, a charming sounding voice, beautiful phrasing, the ability to deviate convincingly from a straight rendering of the fake book sort, and she can scat nicely without relying upon it.

There's nothing bad to say about a singer like this! Sometimes she reminds me of a Syreeta Wright with more heft and jazz sensibility. This album showcases her considerable talents very nicely. A jazz singer for today she truly is. And the album is a gas to hear!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tim Carey, Room 114

Electric bassist-composer Tim Carey comes to the fore with his debut effort after a significant apprenticeship playing around Seattle and around the world with a varied cast of worthies that includes Julian Priester, George Cables, and others.

Room 114 (self-released TCM-001) is the disk. It puts together a mellow yet lively sort of fusion that branches out of Pat Metheny's later work but then goes its own way. Tim is joined by the lucid guitar of Brendan Odonnell, piano and keys by Eric Verlinde, drums and percussion by Jeff "Bongo" Bush and more drums on selected tracks by Tarik Abouzied. The band is on the mark and Tim contributes some very nice post-Jaco soloing.

The songs and ensemble riffing got my attention on first listen and they continue to do so. It's a tasteful blend that has a kick to it now and again and manages to stand out from the pack. Give it a listen!