Monday, September 30, 2013

Body/Head, Coming Apart, Kim Gordon and Bill Nace

Now that Sonic Youth is no more (for now, anyway) we have the proliferation of albums by ex-Sonics that carry on. The latest is by Kim Gordon and her friend Bill Nace, a duo known as Body/Head. Their album Coming Apart (Matador) has just been released, and it's an adventure.

The Sonics sometimes had their weirder moments when Kim might go into outside vocalisms while guitars fed back and skronked out. Coming Apart is a full album extension of such things, Kim sounding like a cross between Patty Waters and a female Lou Reed at his more bizarre, only it's Kim Gordon and so instantly recognizable as such.

Bill and Kim man the guitars, Kim the vocals. It's like Sonics/Velvets at their weirdest, and carves out further that territory in its very own way. The guitar playing is psychedelic outness that has its definite charms, provided you open your ears and take in the out abstract-artiness of it all. And Kim is her irreducible self as the vocalist-performance artist. Not always on key, purposefully, but always artistically expressive.

I like it. You might hate it. But not if you like the outside realms of the Sonics in their heyday. It takes things from there. Don't expect to hear any of this on top-40 radio!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Billy Cardine, Six String Swing

One of the beautiful things about doing these reviews is how you get to know the music of some great cats you would not otherwise know about. Today's example is one of those happenstances. Slide guitarist extraordinaire Billy Cardine sent me a short clip of him playing with a somewhat self-effacing "maybe this is the sort of thing you would like to cover in your blogs?" I listened for about 30 seconds and I thought, "holy living cow! This guy is terrific!" or something to that effect.

End result: Billy sent me three CDs of his music, each a killer! Today we devote to his Django-Gypsy Swing set, Six String Swing (Little King). It's Billy Cardine on slide guitar with a string band of players including mandolin, some of whom do some very nice soloing here. But it's Billy who completely blows you away.

I surely have never heard a slide guitarist with such abilities--he manages to get Django's essence across while showing you the sort of artist he (Billy) is: tasteful, technically incredible and musically profound.

I'll be covering in a short while the other two albums Billy sent--and each is very different--so I wont go into all the details of his playing here. Instead, I'll just say that this album floors me. It has everything going for it. It manages to catch the Gypsy Swing style and take it to slide heaven. Do not hesitate! Get this one!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Avengers, On A Mission

Beledo is a Uruguyan guitarist of both power and finesse. He and his jazz-rocking outfit The Avengers carry on in fine fashion in the CD release On A Mission (Gudari). The music is in the elaborate modern fusion mode and Beledo is well served by the keys (Adam Holzman), bass (Lincoln Goines) and drums (Kim Plainfield) lineup that comprises the band.

Beledo wrote all the tunes save one (by Marcus Miller), and they are nicely crafted and as note-y as typical of this style today.

Beledo has been solidly influenced by Allan Holdsworth in his group concept and personal sound. But within those confines he excels. He can dazzle you with a blur of notes, then dig in with the sheer sensual properties of his guitar sound. He and Holzman, understandably, are the principal soloists and they work well together, complementing and returning thought with counter-musical thought.

One gets the feeling that this band is working towards its very own way and sound. There is enough there already to suggest it. I look forward to that evolution in sides to come. Meanwhile this one satisfies. Beledo is a true artist of the guitar!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bernie Mora & Tangent, Dandelion

Really nice jazz-rock today from guitarist Bernie Mora and his group Tangent. The album is Dandelion (Rhombus 7117). It's a pretty large outfit out of El Paso and Los Angeles. Mora plays a nice fusion-amped guitar and wrote all the material, then there's a group of six others and a couple of guests, bass, drums, keys, saxes, horns, percussion. Everybody sounds well-versed and together, tight, the arrangements-compositions have fused-prog-rock clout and Bernie cranks it to good effect.

They cover quite a bit of ground with a varied program of pleasing extroversion. I am reminded of the classic horn jazz-rock bands only updated for today, with maybe a hint of Zappa in there somewhere. They get the toe tapping and can hit it pretty hard.

Hey, I like this one. It may not set the world ablaze but Mora can crank and the whole thing is very solid.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Going Underground: Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counter-Culture, DVD

There was a period in the Beatles' existence when the band had stopped touring. Three of the four lads began spending time in their London-suburb-based houses, but Paul McCartney lived for a while in an attic space with his then-girlfriend in London proper. Proximity, time and a open exploratory attitude meant that Paul got involved in that period in the burgeoning London avant bohemia in ways that influenced his attitudes and some of the more pioneering music the Beatles made in the mid-to-later sixties.

The fascinating story is covered in a new video DVD Going Underground: Paul McCartney, the Beatles and the UK Counter-Culture (Pride DVD161). It follows both the development of the alternative culture and Paul's involvement chronologically with a narrative that incorporates archival footage and personal interviews with some of the figures that were a part of the scene, for an in-depth 153 minutes.

There's so much covered here that I can't begin to inventory it all, but it tracks the underground press and its sponsoring of/involvement with an extension of beat culture, identity politics and the avant and psychedelic music scenes. In essence Paul got turned on to the avant improv band AMM and various new sounds as he absorbed some of the underground ethos. He also attended and helped support the opening of the first of the psychedelic clubs, where Pink Floyd and Soft Machine got their starts.

There are sections of the DVD that talk about how all this influenced some of the pioneering Beatles cuts such as "Tomorrow Never Knows," "A Day in the Life" and "Strawberry Fields."

It's something anyone interested in the psychedelic musical movement, the classic Beatles art-music period, and the counter-culture in general will profit by seeing. I found it pretty riveting. Worth it alone just for the interview with Robert Wyatt, the Soft Machine's seminal first drummer!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Big Harp, Chain Letters

OK, so here's something that came out in January and what took me so long to review it? My only excuse is that I've had a lot on my plate this year. Something worth talking about months ago is still worth talking about now, I figure. Either that or we exist in such an ephemeral world that the blur of its passing makes it difficult to nail down impressions for once and all. I will go with the first option, the only one I can comfortably exist inside.

So here goes. Big Harp is the conjunction of Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney. Chain Letters (Saddle Creek) is their second effort, a rather unusual melange of solid singer-songwriting, indie rock, sometimes with a slight country accent, and a harder-edged feel. There's some formidable guitar playing, good rocking arrangements contrasting with some more gentle-sounding things, and lyrical content that has depth and a storytelling directness.

Chris has an appealing, twangy lead vocal presence that has a laid back quality. Stefanie sounds fine as harmonizing vocalist.

This is one where the songs are good and they carry the day, whether it is January or September.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Uncluded, Hokey Fright

The Uncluded is the unusual pairing of rapper Aesop Rock with singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson. Their debut, Hokey Fright (CD or 2-LP, Rhymesayers) is so peculiarly expressive of a younger generation I am not a part of that it grabbed my attention.

It's somehow a combination of articulate rap/hip-hop, slacker chick indie rock, nouveau folk and ice cream truck music...somehow. There is a sort of disarmingly innocent nursery rhyme this-is-it quality conjoined with an all-too-knowing and insightful world weariness here.

And there are interesting instrumental touches that set this apart too.

It's something about frustration and courage in the face of a self-alienation, sandwiches, candy, hitting rock bottom and yet realizing it's becoming a common thing, that it's what needs to be gone through. And it's all that in a real-poetical way, with blunt sophistication. Hey. And it's about prevailing because that's what you must do. So it's not just a generation thing either.

I found I could get with this, though it's not my usual thing. I'm not sure I'd want to hear it another 1,000 times, but it's about right now. Right now.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Zs, Grain

If you are looking for something so electric and off-the-wall that it sounds like it's from another planet, seek no further. The group Zs, together since 2000 and now thriving as a trio, will blow your head off with Grain (Northern Spy).

The lineup is Sam Hillmer (tenor sax), Patrick Higgins (guitar), and Greg Fox (percussion). Live onslaughts of sound and some pretty phenomenal Higgins guitar alternate with some very evocatively bizarre loops of the band. The entire whole ends up as a matrix, a web of out sound that starts in and goes to places you might not recall visiting before.

I dare you to get this one. Not because I am being cocky. It's because some may hate it--but it may also speak to you as a long lost and very out Dutch Uncle. Stockhausen and Hendrix always seem to me to be different ends of an entire spectrum of things that have not stood still since the two genius's unfortunate demises. Here with Zs you get part of where it has gone. And a wonderment of sounds to baffle and enlighten, quite often at the same time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ceramic Dog, Your Turn, with Marc Ribot

Ceramic Dog is guitarist Marc Ribot's trio. Your Turn (Northern Spy) is their album and it kicks up plenty of dust.

Of course as you'd expect there is a treasure-trove of opportunities to hear the unparalleled skronk guitar of Mr. Ribot here and he sounds great. But it is situated in a set of full-fledged trio music that hits hard but also has musical substance which stays in your head, so you get the full hit of goodness.

It's hard-edged, it kicks, the group takes no prisoners, and then they throw some unexpected curves at you, too, that break it up, like a nice version of Brubeck's "Take Five" (RIP Dave). And the quasi-mid-eastern "Masters of the Internet" is a corker.

It's an album that has the excitement of a live date when a band is completely on it. They are.

Great guitar, great band, great music for the seeker of brains inside the brawn! Listen and love this one if you will. I do.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

J=J, 2013 EP

Ms. Joanna Duda and J=J come at us with a 30 minute EP today. She's from Poland, plays synths and piano and is aided and abetted by Jan Emile Mlynarski on drums and voice, and a couple of guests.

Jan has a very cool way of playing additive and subtractive beats which geometrically frees the frame; Joanna gives us a kind of electronic soundscape that sometimes riffs, sometimes sound-sculpts. It's a sometimes uncanny sort of DIY thing that you have to hear several times at least to get with.

But once you do you enter an odd sort of world and make yourself at home. One cut is a bit pedestrian in a radio-friendly sort of way; the rest makes for fascinating listening. Check it out.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Steve Tallis, ZOZO

Steve Tallis has evolved over the years to become an artist of inimitable qualities, a true original. There's a bluesy underpinning, a vocal delivery uniquely his but in an early Dylan-Beefheartian lineage, a tribal folk-swamp-rock ensemble sound with his acoustic guitar, Gary Ridge on percussion and Dave Clarke on violin, mandolin, etc. All this and songs with a set of lyrics that evokes the sky and the earth, plus loops of ethnic music (percussion and tribal-vocal, from Africa, often enough) to work against.

This is what you hear and hear well on his ZOZO (Zombi Music). Steve's Australian homeland of open spaces, bright light, clear air come though on this album.

It's one of his very best and one to start on if you don't know about his music. Good stuff!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Terra Guitarra, Dragonfly

Nueva-flamenco in an instrumental, not-quite-jazz zone is the deal on Terra Guitarra's fourth album Dragonfly (Earthsign 0015). Bruce Hecksel and Julie Patchouli are the Spanish-guitar wielding protagonists and a tastefully tuneful lot they are. They get rhythm backing in their nicely turned set of originals and standards.

If the Ventures were reborn as nueva-flamencologists they might sound like this. Terra Guitarra have enough in the chops department that they please, without exploding into 32nd-note runs or setting their guitars on fire.

It's the kind of disk you can put on at any time and it feels welcome. It's not heavy and not supposed to be heavy, but it brings pleasure.

Pleasure in plenty.