Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Mythos, Surround Sound Evolution

Ever since the late '60s when the various avant gardes and the psychedelic realms of rock converged for a little while there has been music with a consciousness-expanding focus. In rock, the stylistic drift went from psychedelic to prog and jamband space to psychedelic revival with plenty falling between categories. And today anything can happen!

Today we have something that nestles into a prog-synth-space rock place rather comfortably. This is electronic music, I suppose you could say, because it's all synthesized from what I can hear. But it's a matter of what does or does not work, in the end. The outfit Mythos gives you a full-length sonic-psychic workout that pretty much works--on the Surround Sound Evolution (Sireena 2109) CD.

Now one (in my position) should avoid judging anything on the idea of "if I did this music, would I do it this way?" because whatever "I" would do has nothing to do with the music in terms of validity. There are things I might not do myself, and of course things I perhaps couldn't do. So forget that.

You might think of someone like Kraftwerk as far as precedents go. It's electronically spacey in that sort of European melodic way, only updated a bit. This is apparently the second album, a follow-up from their first in 2008.

What matters is that the music is highly structured, cosmically electronic but everyday accessible in its prog melodic fashion. I found it kept me continuously enveloped in ways that were pleasing. Would I have added a guitar? Some drums? Well as I say, this is not my record so never mind that. It's nice.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Darts & Arrows, Eyes of the Carnival

It is by no means an easy thing for the music variously dubbed jazz-rock/fusion/prog/jamband to lay right, to sound naturally grooving, to be able to pair down and get leverage before it launches out. There are outfits that can play incredibly difficult technical things yet never really get rocking. This I most definitely would not say about the combo Darts & Arrows on their album Eyes of the Carnival (self released).

Here we have 30-plus minutes of an EP that gets that leverage. Like early Soft Machine and at the same time middle-period Gary Burton, they establish grooves and stay there as a foundational premise. The compositional matrix laid down, mostly penned by guitarist Bill MacKay with one by keyman Ben Boye (that one balladic), sets the possibilities and then the players open up to them.

Bill MacKay's guitar and Ben Boye's keys have leverage and sound as soloists too. They aren't trying to wow you with chops and more chops, but rather say something musical and at the same time express a sound. They do it well. They don't take long solos either. In fact sometimes it's more about the tune and playing it with feeling, opening up to it. But that is fine if they do it right. They do.

Kyle Hernandez on bass and Quin Kirchner on drums are in that same way concerned with feel and less with "wow" technique.

And so in the end you react like you have been hearing real music in a zone that in other hands sometimes loses the music-first thread. Nobody here is going to cut the greatest technical players. But what they do sounds very right. In the end the music satisfies. Good tunes played with conviction. That's very cool with me.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Steve Tallis and the Holy Ghosts, Loko, 2003

Seasoned Australian vet rock blues guitarist-vocalist-singer-songwriter-bandleader comes at us in a 2003 CD of original songs with his acoustic band The Holy Ghosts. Loko (Zombi cd5) is the disk I am writing about today. It's Steve on acoustic guitar and vocals with some nice violin from Dave Clarke and solid percussion-drum accompaniment by Gary Ridge.

The 2003 incarnation of Maestro Tallis is a folk-blues drenched kind of rock-folk. There are primal progressions that take the place of the standard blues variety and Steve gives us strong, emphatic vocals with a definite blues tinge--a touch of Beefheart and Howling Wolf behind his own brand of deep projective declamation that sounds very right.

The songs are personal expressions of outrage, frustration, affirmation, disapprobation about the world he sees around him. The foment of religious upheaval, social bigotry, hypocrisy, chaos, and personal angst. In other words, this is a blues reaction to the modern, post-modern world.

There is much in the way of originality. He is a kind of new Richie Havens coming from another planet. We get 15 powerful songs in a ritual exorcism of the world's inequalities, a swamp-rock incantation to renew us all.

It's hard-edged music that you must hear more than once to dig into what's going on. Once you do, you get a "new" voice on the scene--though he has worked to get to this point hard and well over the years.

It's very real, strong and in-your-face. It's Steve Tallis into a definite original zone. You should get it.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

HaUtUllin, Music for Very Electric Guitar, Drums and Live Electronics

Plug in your minds and journey to Copenhagen, where the duo HaUtUllin (Barefoot Records) is doing its own plugging in--guitar, live electronics, effects, drums--readying the arsenal and getting ready to assault your senses. They let loose. Good lord! Guitarist Markus Pesonen and drummer Håkon Berre give you 65 minutes of well-conceived very outside post-Hendrixian free jazz psychedelia. Pesonen is a guitarist of greatly inventive sonic imagination and Berre goes with him like anything but a Mini-Me, more like a musical Maxi-Me. They have some quiet moments (which work quite well) but when they drench your being with effects-laden distortion, bends, thrashes, bashes and growls, you know that they are for real.

This kind of music has come a long way since the olden days when my friends and I traumatized the neighbors from the open-doored garage where we set up and crazed out on weekends. HaUtUllin have made of such Hendrix-inspired noodlings a directed free music that has smarts as well as ultra-space.

If you like out electric free jazz-rock, you probably already know what they can do in Scandinavia, I will bet. This is one of the newest directed assaults from there, and one of the best!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Troy Roberts, Nu-Jive 5

Saxophonist-compositional creator Troy Roberts hails from Perth, Australia and has been making his home in the USA for some time now. He's gotten attention out there as a real artist. I've heard a little of his music but the new fifth album has especially gotten my continued attention lately. Nu-Jive 5 (XenDen) features his fivesome, comprising Roberts on saxes and compositions, Tim Jago on electric guitar, Eric England on electric bass, David Oliverton on the drums and Silvano Monasterios on the keys. It's a tight outfit dwelling in a sort of progressive jazz-rock-fuzefunk realm.

The pieces hang together nicely and there are some very fresh things to be heard here along with some of the more expected groovers. I like how he creates structures of solidity that springboard the music and how all the front line, Roberts and Jago especially, get some time to say some nice solo things.

It may not set the world on fire but it's musically very solid, and sometimes very inspired too. Give it a listen!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jeff Healey, As the Years Go Passing By, Three-CD Live Set

Jeff Healey, Canadian blues-rock guitar-vocal phenomenon, left this world in 2008, sadly. Cancer. But he lives yet. Especially with the welcome release of a three-CD set of him and his band live in Germany between 1989-2000. As the Years Go Passing By (Inakustik 9119 3-CD) captures Healey in excellent form, playing real-deal bluesy rock guitar, singing strongly, playing the mix of covers and originals he was known for, doing it well and doing it in full fidelity sound.

One CD of the original trio follows with a CD each of two versions of the trio with the addition of a second guitarist. So one disk is the 1989 incarnation, the second from 1999, the last from 2000.

It's the hard rock blues, the hard blues, the hard rock and it's as good a sampling of what Jeff Healey was about as you can get. And that is something. I will be listening for years to come. Rock guitarists take note! Or anybody else, too!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Jay Willie Blues Band, New York Minute

Nowadays there's new blues, borrowed blues, blue blues and faux blues. Now whether it's good doesn't to me mean that it should fall into only one or two of these categories. If it's good, it's good. If it isn't, it isn't.

So we have the Jay Willie Blues band today, and their recent New York Minute (Zoho 201303). It's new blues, rock blues, hard blues and it convinces. This is not a classic Chicago sound with tail-kicking bluesmaster vocals. The vocals are good, they just are not of a Wolf or Bland level of classicity. They are handled with some soul and perfect adequacy by Jay Willie (who also hits guitar and a little bass and a little harp), Bob Callahan (on guitar, bass and piano also), and Bobby T. Torello (who is the drummer). Then we get one guest vocal appearance by Marlou Zandvliet. Oh, also Jason Ricci joins the throng with some nice harp of his own for four cuts.

These folks mostly hail from Connecticut. Bobby T. was Johnny Winter's drummer by the way. And some of that Winter hardness is there as clear influence.

What's good is the very solid instrumental rock-hard bluesiness, solid gritty slide guitar and amped plucking, hot rhythm section and a nice mix of classics and originals.

Yes. A nice one.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dawn of Midi, Dysnomia

Where do you put music that is so super-permeably inside itself while branching forward everywhere that it could conceivably go in any of the three blogs I do? You put it perhaps where readers will get the maximum jolt from hearing the sounds. So we are on this page for the trio Dawn of Midi and their album Dysnomia (Thirsty Ear). It's Aakaash Israni on bass, Amino Belyamani on piano, and Qasim Naqvi on percussion.

The threesome realize their compositions with precision and soul. This is intricate, interlocking, polyrhythmic Afro-minimalism. But it's not enough to say that. It's how it is that. This is music that will put you in a trance, or make you want to dance, and it gets there with fabulously well worked-out three-way instrumental interaction that will knock you off your seat.

I wont say that this music precisely reflects that the threesome hail originally from Morocco, India and Pakistan, because it doesn't follow that this music would be an expected outcome of this or any other number of international combinations. That's not what makes this music what it is, though it certainly doesn't hurt. It's the vision and hairpin-perfect execution of the players that makes this music stand out.

It grooves like a rhythmically obsessed, benevolent super-earthly spirit. It's one beautiful groove after another, joining together in 46 minutes of end-to-end poly-ecstasy. I mean that! And I am hard to please with this sort of thing, trust me.

Get this one! I think it hits the streets officially next month...

SORA, Scorpion Moon

The Canadian singer SORA has something very nice going on. Her voice is strong and very heartfelt, rangy and excellently nuanced. She sings a sort of folk-ethic, folk-rock faux-celtic new-age tinged contemporary prog music, maybe a present-day equivalent of the band Renaissance if you remember them. You can hear her and her backing musicians to good advantage on the album Scorpion Moon (Factor ASH201301).

The songs have strength and lyrical lift. The arrangements are very well-wrought. The vocals have great beauty. SORA is one of those singer-songwriters that doesn't come along often. If you like the idea of a lyrical, poetic archaism recalling as in a dream another earlier time, another unknown place, this will get to you nicely, I think!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Charles "CD" Davis, 24 Hour Blues

The blues goes on. For a while there were folks doing things, and they are still out there, mostly, that had a big blues influence, that were tauted as the new blues sensations. Truthfully, it didn't always hit me as "the blues." Soul, yeah, other things, yeah, but maybe not exactly the blues. And that's cool. Well, OK and there have been some cats there clearly in the blues tradition, doing something right now. Along with the surviving cats (RIP Bobby Bland) who still are very much doing it. I've been covering them here and on the Gapplegate Music Blog. Here's another good one.

I speak of Charles "CD" Davis, with a cranking band, and his CD 24 Hour Blues (Blues House 0300). Charles plays a sizzling blues guitar. He was doing it for years with the Calvin Owens Blues Orchestra. Calvin passed in 2008 and Charles decided to hit out on his own. This is his debut.

Charles holds forth on the guitar and puts in an excellent showing. His axe is joined by four good vocalists here: Jabo, Roberta Donnay, Rue Davis and Trudy Lynn. They all have something going. The tunes are a mix of classics and classic-sounding new things or not-so-known things. It's modern urban soul blues with blazing guitar and it plays real nicely, man, no matter where or when you are. That's what it's about.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Permanent Clear Light, Beyond These Things

Psychedelic music still has a place today. In much of the psychedelic revival happening from the '80s onward, there has been a good bit of the jam proto-metal or avant realm in play. But we should not forget that the music had its beginnings in the consciousness of listeners as an extension of song form as much as a sound that gradually developed alongside it. So the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" was first and foremost a song, though "Tomorrow Never Knows" almost wasn't. "Who Are the Brain Police" by the Mothers was a song as much as it was a sound. "Arnold Layne" by Pink Floyd the same. XTC's psychedelic takeoffs of the '80s were centered around song.

All this a prelude to an excellent contribution to psychedelia in the Finnish group Permanent Clear Light's first full album, Beyond These Things (Havasupai Records 001). I've covered an EP and single or two of there's here, but at last an album. And it's good. Very very good.

Keep in mind the intro paragraph has a point: Permanent Clear Light take as their starting point the song form. This is a collection of excellent songs with that distinct wall of psychedelic sound going, some great jam moments, great vocals, guitar and spooky keys, but first and foremost songs as the launch mechanism for orbiting.

They have the knack of coming up with something new using the neo-psychedelic sound, so expect those quasi-Beatlian early BeeGee-ian Indo-cello strings, mellotronian nirvana, phase-shifted everything on occasion, the Floydian floating islands, the fairly compact timeframe (mostly), a little Brain-Brian Wilsonian eccentricity of musical means...just enough of everything but in new combinations and with a freshness that drives it all forward to make it of today.

Arto Kakko, Matti Laitinen and Markku Helin have it together. The album paces very well, the songs are great and there is much excellence to be had here. Beautiful! If you dig the psychedelic thing, there should be no hesitation. Grab this!

Norman Johnson, Get It While You Can

I never make a point, at least to myself, of thinking "I will never review music of x or y category, so if I put on a review CD and it's that, off it goes." If something is good at what it does, then I'll talk about it. There is a point of satiation for certain musics, but that is more cumulative for me. So when I got a copy of guitarist Norman Johnson's CD in the mail and put it on, I listened.

The CD is Get it While You Can (Pacific Coast Jazz 83454). It's Norman on electric and some acoustic, with an instrumental backdrop in the arranged light funk zone. OK so it might be music you hear when you get put on hold talking to some company. But it's miles better than most of that stuff. It is because it never goes into a bad taste zone, and because Norman Johnson can play. There is a bit of the current George Benson in there somewhere. It's bluesy. And when he gets a solo going it is very ear-worthy. And the arrangements are decent.

But mostly it's Johnson the guitarist that makes it worth hearing. He's good. Now I'd like to hear him cut loose in a small group setting. But hey, thanks for your playing Norman!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Blowing Fuses Left and Right, The Legendary Detroit Rock Interviews, DVD

Lest we forget (and there have been those who would rather we did) the '60s in America were times of great upheaval on both social and cultural levels. The struggle for Civil Rights, the attempt (in part successful) to redefine and/or rediscover an ethics and cultural outlook beyond what had become well-entrenched by the comparatively stolid '50s, the idea that all have an actively articulated role to play in a national debate of who we are and what we want to be, all became particularly pronounced by the late '60s.

With that came a flowering of rock (and soul) as art form. Two Detroit bands of the era, the Stooges and the MC5, made an impact on the music scene that was not initially huge but over time came to be seen as increasingly important for the music that came after, no matter how stutteringly sporadic that "after" became.

It was with this in mind, during the height of the Reagan years, that Gil Margulis, young student and enthusiast, set out with a video camera to interview some key members of both groups. Blowing Fuses Left and Right (O-Rama MVD DVD 5119D) captures three lengthy interviews made during that time.

So we have interviews of the late Ron Asheton, guitarist and co-founder of the Stooges, late MC5 singer Rob Tyner, and MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson.

These are rough-and-ready segments that gain by the informal, enthusiastically non-professional nature of the interactions to give you first-person insights into the politics and realities of Detroit and the country at large during the time, the playing situation of the famed Grande Ballroom, the struggle to establish a musical identity and the rather horrific results of national recognition and/or the lack of it.

Of course the Stooges and the MC5 were groups with a striking energy level, an in-your-face punkyness that was as innovative as it was considered then brazen. The interviews give you concrete insights into the different outlooks the two bands had, pronounced perhaps especially in the political realm, and the difficulties, traumas and relative triumphs each faced when national attention, enthusiasm and/or hostility was meted out to them during their period as recording artists and touring performers.

Anyone with an interest in these bands, the general rock scene and the cultural history of the '60s will find articulate spokesman and invaluable first-hand testimony as to what it was like! Whether you know the general story or you do not, these interviews are pretty near mind-blowing! Very much recommended.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vo-Duo, Nou La, Markus Schwartz, Monvelyno Alexis

It's not of course unusual to hear the music of New Africa and experience new releases here in the States, whether it be Afrobeat or Jazz inflected sounds, two areas that can provide lots of appeal and fresh infusions of vitality.

A duo that does an especially great job of it with an intimate lineup is Vo-Duo, as heard on their Nou La (Lakou Brooklyn). What we have is the Afro-Haitian vocals and electric guitar of Monvelyno Alexis and the drumming and backup vocals of Markus Schwartz.

There is much going on here: some very subtle excellence in the rhythmically chording and melody weaving of the guitar, the polyrhythmic richness of Schwartz's drumming and the song-vocal effectiveness of Alexis. It has all the traditional heft of call-and-response mesmerizing but gets a big lift with the way Alexis works his magic.

This is an excellent match of musical talent in a extraordinary set of songs. All Africanists will love it--and if you want some great adventure but don't know a lot about the musical world this represents it's a great place to start.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Joe Morris, Agusti Fernandez, Nate Wooley, From the Discrete to the Particular

Joe Morris has become one of the very seminal free music guitarists out there today. He's written a book on playing free that I am reading right now, teaches at New England Conservatory and has made a large impact through many recordings and of course personal appearances. For the album on tap today he plays acoustic guitar (or at least it's his semi-hollow with little amplification, not sure) and joins in chamber free trio improvisations with trumpetmaster Nate Wooley (who has also become a centripetal force on his instrument) and pianist Augusti Fernandez, perhaps a lesser-known artist but fully at the level of the other two in his own way.

From the Discrete to the Particular (Relative Pitch 1008) brings the three together live at Firehouse 12 in New Haven in 2011. The triple-tiered interplay can get downright contrapuntal, which is only logical given the players and what they tend to do. But at all times there are various zone interactions going on, each player plotting out an aural spot and then working off the other two in the zones they establish. Seven individual pieces vary the freedom in ways that keep it interesting and exciting.

The harmonic texture of the music primarily comes out of the overlapping, interacting melody lines. The high inventive level of those lines and how they work as a triumvarate is what makes the music come through, makes it all "pop" so to speak. And pop it certainly does. The threesome have chosen their version of the open road; they challenge each other to get spontaneous chamber combustion on a continuous basis, and it happens. This is not easy music to do well. It is a tribute to the musical ears and imagination of the players that they succeed, that they plummet the hurdles of free playing in tandem. This music is vital!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Little Women, Lung

Little Women, an avant quartet based in New York, hit the ground running a while back with a very in-your-face offering, Throat. They return with a new one that marks a bit of a departure, Lung (AUM Fidelity 076).

The instrumentation is not exactly typical: Travis Laplante on tenor sax, Darius Jones, alto sax, Andrew Smiley, electric guitar, and Jason Nazary on drums. Like on the first album the band has worked out an interestingly eclectic mix of free and composed interplay. The first album hit it pretty hard most of the time for a skronk electricity and energy level way up there.

Lung goes a much more dynamic route. There are reflective, almost meditative moments of group ensemble texture and there are contrastive onslaughts that make for more "symphonic" (if you will) climaxes. It's one continuous work lasting 42 minutes. The last section is flat-out power, high-electric skronk, avant free-post-Beefheartian slamming. This isn't about individual solos as much as it is about collective sound.

That it builds into such a literally heavy end-section makes the listening experience that much more mesmerizing, absorbing. It's quite a feat and shows you that Little Women have their own sense of how to change things up, how to make it all different. They do that.