Thursday, February 28, 2013

A C Newman, Shut Down the Streets

A C Newman writes songs that you remember once you hear them a few times, that come from some place inside his inner sanctum. His third album, Shut Down the Streets (Matador), combines some very nice songs with some haunting arrangements, floating sorts of things at times, but then they have movement too. Some nice guitar in there now and again as well.

It's music that wards off the depredations of a long winter, that looks ahead to spring, that's what hits me right now.

It's pop-rock-alt that doesn't assume you are stupid. I like that. Because we aren't stupid. The "Shut Down the Streets" song has a message too. So I like this guy.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Marc Ducret, Tower Vol. 4

Marc Ducret's Tower, Vol 4 (Ayler AYLCD 121) finds the guitarist switching gears. This is an unaccompanied guitar solo album with Marc on acoustic.

It's not at all ordinary however, in whatever way "ordinary" might connote for a solo acoustic set. There is an interesting mix of both conventional and unconventional sounds produced--by introducing prepared objects (it sounds like) and unusual playing techniques into the situation.

So sometimes the guitar might sound like a Chinese Pipa lute, or by the use of unusual singingly sustained harmonics, sound like a Southeast Asian stringed instrument, and so forth.

Even when the sound is conventional, his musical approach to line and chord is highly original and comes through strongly on these pieces. There's perhaps a hint of classic Beefheartian abstraction, bluesiness, and then otherwise simply not what you might expect.

A composer's guitarist? A guitarist's composer? Both.

This is an extraordinary record. Ducret must be heard. And the very short, concluding rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Electricity"! Brilliant.

Ken Hatfield Sextet, For Langston

February 1st of this month marked the release of guitarist-composer-arranger Ken Hatfield's For Langston (Arthur Circle Music 6854). It's an ambitious song cycle honoring Renaissance Harlem's poet laureate Langston Hughes. February 1st also marks Langston's would-be birthday.

It's a sextet performing music set to the poetry of Hughes, covering a wide range of poems and creating a modern, somewhat cool jazz ambiance that fits the exceptional wordplay without attempting a completely literal correspondence between the two.

The sextet showcases the vocal presence of Hilary Gardner, who has a pleasing, musical way about her. Ken Hatfield's nylon stringed acoustic guitar has plenty of space and solo time, which he puts to good use. The striking sound world of Jamie Baum's alto flute brings a third solo voice into the mix and she responds with nicely turned phrasing and a beautiful sound. The group is grounded by solid rhythm section work from Hans Glawischnig, Jeff Hirschfield and Steven Kroon, on bass, drums and percussion.

What results is a series of memorable songs, well sung and well played, that get the deepening of Langston Hughes's thoughtfully expressive poetry as the basis of it all. It's not asphalt jungle anguish so much as lyrical homage. Once you get with the premises, there is very much good music to enjoy. I am sure there are more than a few songs here that could stand fully erect on their own in new versions by other artists.

It's an absorbing listen. The songs, the poetry and the improvisation work together nicely.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Waves of Fury, Thirst

It's not easy sounding snotty, raw, garagy in an authentic way, punky without pretension. Try it. Waves of Fury do that on their EP Thirst (Alive Records paste into browser to get info or disk).

We have full-out rawness on this EP, with skronk guitar, pounding drums, a horn section, adenoidal teen frenzy vocals that take no prisoners. It's as if the Seeds evolved into a band capable of hitting the airwaves with all their ten-thumbed directness, with a bit more in the song department than they had later on. Or as if the early Fugs cleaned up their act. . .

Well, it's more than that. But it's freaking good for being so bad, do you know?

Has the time passed for this sort of punk-garage? Not when it's as convincing as this.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Torben Waldorff, Wah-Wah

There is innovation. Then there is everything that follows. Some of it too is innovation. Guitarist Torben Waldorff is somewhere in that cycle. He plays guitar and writes songs in ways that make it clear that Metheny, Scofield and Abercrombie have each spent some time on his CD player or i-pod. But Waldorff is so good. He is so conversant in the musical language he speaks, there is such a something about him, that you hear him on his own terms.

I speak of his recent album, Wah-Wah (Artistshare 0117). I say recent even though at least one site published a review of it last November, I believe.

Point: if this is a good album then it's good in February or November. And it's good. Torben is joined by Gary Versace on piano and Hammond, and that's very good because Mr. Versace is ace.

This is memorable music--compositionally and improvisationally. And for that reason I would recommend it. There is good harmonic sequence, there are nice lines, and a sound that has some sheen but some grit, too. Mr. Waldorff is on his way to his own guitar style. He'll get there. In the interim we have this excellent disk to savor.

Elizabeth Shephard, Rewind

Why do jazz vocalists tend to be more popular than their instrumental counterparts among plain folks? Words, for one thing. My sister-in-law is an example. She cannot listen to music that doesn't have words. There must be vocals. OK, I can understand that. And jazz standards tend to be about romantic topics, which folks tend to resonate with. There are many very pretty female vocalists, dashing male singers, also. I can understand that. Jimmy Rushing, "Mr. Five By Five," was a notable exception. He wasn't pretty! And of course none of that matters in the end, if they can sing.

The fact is though, that we naturally respond to the human voice, like baby ducks respond to their mom, following her anywhere. We are imprinted with it. And to understand what's really good about a jazz vocalist, listen to some not-so-good ones and you will be reminded, especially after you put on some Billie Holiday afterwards.

So we have Elizabeth Shepherd. Pretty? Sure. Even if she wasn't though, she has a voice that leaps out of the speakers at you. On her latest, Rewind (Linus 270135), which I believe is her second, you hear her and there is an immediate recognition. The voice has a sensuous quality, plenty of finesse, pitch perfect control and she does versions of things that stand out as different, sometimes partially due to he double-tracking vocal harmonies she incorporates as backdrop, but even if not. If I were a baby duck I'd follow her wherever she led. Quack!

"Lonely House," the Kurt Weil-Langston Hughes masterpiece, for example. Take that. Her version comes across whispery, sulky, truly lonely sounding. One of the best versions I've ever heard, in fact.

So there is an emotional element involved too in doing these songs right. Betty Carter didn't care all that much about that aspect and nobody cared because she just blew you away. There are songs though where some kind of emotional honesty is needed and the fickle-fay-phony mannerist opposite destroys the song and degrades the fine art of singing in a jazz mode. Billie again. You know she was feeling it.

So these are some reasons why Elizabeth Shepherd is such a pleasure to hear. Chanteuse extraordinaire!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Baird Hersey and Prana Featuring Krishna Das, My Foolish Heart, the Single

It happens to be Valentine's Day today. And what better day to introduce the new single from Baird Hersey and Prana, "My Foolish Heart"? What can I say about this one? It gives me the chills. It has the beautiful vocal textures, overtone singing prowess and timbral mystery of Baird and Prana, doing a song that features Krishna Das on the initial lead vocals.

It's just the vocalists and drums. It is so cosmic, so warmly human, the song so unforgettable (it's not the standard by the same name), the arrangement so beautiful, it moves me very much. Doowop from outer space? Yes and more. It's extraordinary. Get your ears ready, and listen!

Go to to hear it. Then go to itunes and plunk down your 99 cents and get it.

Trio Amalgamate, Gene Pritzker, Dan Cooper, Gernot Bernroider

Composer-guitarist Gene Pritsker has been no stranger to these blogs. He has assimilated and made his own a wide scope of musical influences to create personally distinctive contemporary music always worthwhile to hear.

The newest offering is a prog-fuse power outfit Trio Amalgamate (Composers Concordance 011), which puts Gene in the guitar chair and joins him with Dan Cooper on 7-string bass, Gernot Bernroider on drums, and a cameo vocal appearance from Chanda Rule.

This is the composed and improvised, modern adventure-side of fusion. There are some very compelling compositional frameworks by Gene, and also by Gernot and Dan as well. "Weeping," which is Pritzker's adaptation of a theme by Mozart for the trio and Chandra on vocals, is the one piece that doesn't exactly go in the fusion mold, at least in its head melody, but it's very Pritzker-esque!

Everyone sounds good on this one. It's less about chopmeistering and more about making music, though there is no absence of technique.

It's a different take on the trio electrique. You want different, this will get that for you!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Zohar's Nigun, The Four Questions

What is the world? We know literally of course. But "World Music" is what exactly? It's the world but maybe not your world. Or maybe it is. It's non-WASP music? Usually, yes. It's one of those categories we get stuck with in music but it has some utility. Today we have a quartet that plays music with a Jewish tinge, music with a tonality and phrasing not expressly Western (read WASP-ern?) but nowadays of course very much a part of the "West" as is the African-American strain of music, or, for that matter, to a much less extent, the influence of the Shakers.

Jewish music and Jewish life are of course very much alive in the States and the broader culture has been much enriched by that. So this is a part of a musical tradition that remains active and constantly moving forward while keeping traditions as well. Its influence and presence is thriving in the world I occupy, centered around New York City as I am.

So the music of the quartet Zohar's Nigun, specifically the album The Four Questions (Rectify Records), does not sound exotic to me. It does sound very good. The quartet taps into traditional Jewish melody and dance and combines that with jazz. It's not Klezmer. It is thoroughly contemporary in the way it commingles the elements together. It even gets avant now and again.

The quartet: Daniel Weltlinger on violin, Daniel Pliner on piano, Simon Milman on acoustic bass, and Alon Ilsar at the drums. Pliner's piano playing shows a thorough jazz schooling and he voices and does solo runs that make for an excellent sort of synthesis. Daniel Weltlinger's violin has a very direct Jewishness to it and also classical training. He is a phenomena, surely. And he sounds wonderful.

The rhythm section gets right where they need to be with old dance forms and jazz today combined.

It is music of much interest. There are some beautiful treatments of themes, getting an avant aspect into it all, a new music aspect, a larger encompassing of elements than would be expected if this was according to a formula.

I find it quite moving and heartily embrace it. Anyone who finds traditional Jewish and modern improvisational strains a welcome mix will no doubt feel as I do after listening a few times. I do not doubt. And if you have no idea what such a combination could be like, get a copy and experiment. It's good for you!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dom Minasi Septet, The Bird, the Girl and the Donkey II

Dom Minasi doesn't play the guitar, when he is in a free zone, like there is a line to follow, like a drunk taking a sobriety test for the po-lice. He doubles back, clusters up, densifies, gets his small amp to harmonically distort, becomes a tunnel of electrified sound. In short, he is Dom Minasi, not somebody else, and he is an original.

You hear this and much else on his new release The Bird, The Girl and the Donkey II (UnSeen Records), and more-of-more as well.

It's a septet live, and they have a wonderful free-for-all going with collective clusterings in a meta-sense, solo power, rhythmic thrust and wash, Ascension-like climaxes and the BIG sound.

The cream of the NYC out kind of band is what it is. Dom, Matt Lavelle playing brisk, hot trumpet, and then three-reed-bliss from Blaise Siwula, Ras Moshe, and Remi Alvarez. The rhythm section gets full throttle--Albey Balgochian on bass and Jay Rosen drumming.

It's music of heat and lots to get your adrenalin pumping. Lovers of the heat-freedom need to catch it. It's New York avant at its finest. Go to Dom's site and you can get more info, listen to sample clips and order a copy.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Joe Blessett, Changing Everything

Joe Blessett? His website implies he's a smooth jazz artist. He isn't, at least on Changing Everything (self-released). By not getting to smooth he makes the wrong turn and so gets someplace hipper than that. The album has a funky veneer and some soulful alto and guitar, an attention to groove and ambiance, and it's not vapid, so doesn't seem like smooth covers it.

Marketing tip: say what you do on your recording. I assume from the website that he's playing guitar and alto here but he may well be playing all the instruments, or like Jackie Gleason's mood music albums, none. No. He's playing guitar and sax anyway.

Well now excuse me profusely while I kiss the sky but I actually like these 19 cuts. It's got enough conjoles or whatever to come across as real. It's music with some spherical heft. So more power to Joe Blessett. This is not commercial in the formulaic sense. I like that it is spaciously outside the mold (the mould too) while shooting for success. Sometimes missing the target is getting the target? Yes I think.

Dan Melchior, The Backward Path

With Dan Melchior (and with Northern Spy releases in general) you can't just sit back and get something predictable and expected. So a new release generally is an event. So it seems to me anyway.

So Melchior's The Backward Path (Northern Spy 028) has that unpredictability. He has sidemen working with him, he does fritzy-folksy underground alt rock avant like he was born to it. And of course he was, right? We are all born to what we become in a large sense.

I stress the song with this music, because I was in music publishing for a while and the song is ingrained in my mind as the crucial starting point for music that has some relation to the marketplace, however tangential (and I imply approval there). The songs are songs and set the table for the sonic meal that follows. Melchior's new set is music of dream and daylight, simplicity-earthiness and complex-cosmogony.

It has that old school hippiness but with the "I've seen it, brother" contemporary world awareness. To give you a good feel for what I think, it's music I will listen to again with pleasure, even though the review might be long done.

He is an arteest of the alt. Melchior, Vile, Joanna Newsome, all good news for that, to my ears. So check this one!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kalle Kalima & K-18, Out to Lynch

Dark star film maker David Lynch always gets very appropriate music into his films/tv work. Think of the theme from "Twin Peaks". He also has an unmistakable auteur brilliance that portrays innocence and evil at the same time, with unforgettable, oftimes disturbing imagery and ambiance.

Berlin-based outside electric guitarist Kalle Kalima and his band K-18 have done a tribute to the director in Out to Lynch (TUM 030). These aren't redo-ings of soundtrack highlights so much as brand new compositions that take characters and scenes as inspiration.

The results are highly interesting. There's freedom, sometimes much electricity from the guitar, and accordion, bass, and reeds interacting with Kalle in unpredictable ways as an avant quartet. Sometimes it sounds like Meddle meets music from the nightmare cafe. Kalle's guitar work bears close listening.

It's not easily classified and must be heard a number of times to get into. Once you do that, something clearly good is going on here, you realize.

If you want different, outside and parallel Lynchian, here you have that. It is perhaps one of the most unexpected albums to come out recently!

The xx, Coexist

The xx are back with Coexist (XL Records), their second. If you already know that, bear with me. If you don't, it is a bit of an occasion. They do moody alt, songs with some haunting arrangements, female/male lead vocals that stick out. Love songs, lost songs, human sounds, sincere feeling moods.

It doesn't have the glib slickness that makes some pop alt nauseating these days. It is not formula. And there's spooky guitar and keys haunting everything.

So that's all I have to say for now about this one. It's a soundtrack to lives that aren't as secure, assured, or plan-able as maybe they used to be. And it's not casual so much either. So that's what I get from this music. It's good to hear. It fits my mood, maybe lot's of people's moods, and it does it very musically.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Katherine Young's Pretty Monsters, A Heavy Skronk Bassoon, Guitar, Violin and Drum Quartet

Oh, I like this one. Pretty Monsters (Public Eyesore 120) is avant skronk metal from a very cool quartet that Katherine Young heads up--on bassoon, electronics and compositional heft!

It's an individual and unique band. Katherine gives the bassoon plenty of buzz, Erica Dicker plays some very nice heavy-out violin, Owen Stewart-Robertson skronks and runs wild in good post-Sharrockian guitar form, and Mike Pride plays just the right stuff on drums.

It's music that perhaps only Brooklyn could spawn? It's something of what makes New York improv distinct (of course only part of it). This is a band that should appear at the Stone, the Knitting Factory, and fit right in. You know, like as in "Downtown"? Maybe they have and I missed it.

There's no missing this one if you like things heavy and out, electric and off-centered, insular yet direct. OK?

Tim Bedner, Of Light and Shadow Suite

Enter Tim Bedner, in his debut CD Of Light and Shadow Suite (self released). He plays a very expressive guitar style where influences of Scofeld, Metheny, sophisticated fusion and grit come together with a personal genuineness, originality and soul that extends the bag he is in.

Bedner's compositional thrust makes it stick in your mind in a good way and the trio gets real and personal with fine contrabass and chromatic harmonica from Normand Glaudi and together drumming from Jeff Asselin.

Tim is a talent and a force. Welcome him by buying his CD.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cat Power, Sun

Singer, songwriter, alt queen Cat Power is aging well musically. Her album Sun (Matador) shows that well. Thanks to Hurricane Sandy and then another storm that knocked me off the net a good part of last quarter, I am running a bit behind. Sun has been reviewed and duly acclaimed out there already. What can I add?

I can add that good songs and interesting arrangements make or break the sort of alt that flirts at the edges of pop yet transcends the bleakly dismal results that usually prevail in the great wasteland today.

Anyway, Cat Power didn't sing at the inauguration and I don't suppose we should expect much from our State events from a cultural point of view. No one would accuse Cat Power of donning continually the evil falseness of voice-pitch correction software or other slickly glib tricks that are a big part of the music machine today. So though she may be popular, she could I suppose never be mainstream enough for some musical rep of consensus, and I like that. Political consensus is one thing, musical another. We don't need a common denominator in music and Cat Power isn't that. And that's very cool with me.

If there's a wrong note, it's there, though I hear none on the album, offhand. She does do a little with the digital voice enhancement thing, but quite sparingly and seemingly for effect.

Lyrics that must be heard and understood and have poetic fullness, music that doesn't run through the formulas, a kind of believable human-ness, that's Cat Power to me and she gets my applause for this new one. She doesn't have to sound cute, young and coy and she doesn't. That means she can grow older and still have credibility, no?

Good job!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Joacim Nyberg, Solo Force, Solo Bass Improvisations

Is it true that only bass players get off on solo bass recordings? If it is, it shouldn't be. And it need not be if it is. The bass in jazz/improv is a critical piece of the music puzzle and it's never been more true that good players can do extraordinary things solo, if they are the right sort of player. The solo bass potentially holds as much interest for the listener as a solo reed, a solo piano, a solo whatever recording.

So then, Joacim Nyberg has a disk out, Solo Force, which is available in a limited edition JaZt Tapes (CD-035) CDR. He plays both solo contrabass and solo electric bass here, so that in itself puts a slightly different spin on it. He was mightily influenced by Peter Kowald, plays with cats like Mats Gustafson, Anders Gahnold, Rudi Mahall, and a piano trio with Sebastian Bergstrom.

He is young (born in 1986) and filled with spirit. This disk may not be comparable with something William Parker, Michael Bisio or Peter Kowald has done. But it is soulfully loose and limber; it is a good effort that rings true. Plus there is the solo ELECTRIC bass that gives you something different to hear. Imaginative and budding, Nyberg shows himself off respectably. I am sure time will bring more our way from him. In the meantime get an earful of this.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mahogany Frog, Senna

There's a new Mahogany Frog. Who? Come on, Mahogany Frog! Well, you may not be familiar with them, but they will stick in your head if you hear the new one, Senna (MoonJune 048). Anyone who likes early Floyd and other proto-psychedelic prog outfits that gave the keys equal billing with the guitar strings will find this keys-guitar-bass-drums quartet treading new ground in that tradition.

These are instrumentals with good arrangements in solidly expansive compositions. They are retro without being imitative. It's their own sound and there's the new and the burnished in a nice combination.

This is traveling music, as Jackie Gleason used to call it. I'll bet it would sound terrific in the car for a long trip. It travels into space too but you probably don't have your own rocket yet.

I only have nice things to say about this group. They give you a deja vu feeling without a Groundhog Day literalness! Listen to this one.