Friday, November 29, 2013

Marc Ducret, Tower, Vol. 3

Guitarist Marc Ducret has been making some excellent albums in a series he dubs as Tower. With Vol. 3 (Ayler 120) he manages to take things even further, outdoing himself and providing a very cutting-edge set of four composed-improvised episodes.

The instrumentation is quite unusual, for starters. Marc of course is on electric guitar, then there is the three-trombone tandem of Fidel Fourneyron, Mattias Mahler and Alexis Persigan, plus Antonin Rayon on piano and celeste, and Sylvain Lemetre on vibes, xylophone, marimba and percussion.

There are tabula rasa sections for solo guitar that build into long-lined contrapuntal group expressions that seem at times to show the influence of the more serious side of Zappa but take it all into original terrain, Ducretland.

There is so much that's excellent in Marc's conceptual composition-arranging that the odd instrumentation seems almost inevitable, wholly suited to the music Ducret envisions and realizes with great complexity and dramatic dynamics.

It's new music-free music at its best. It's a fabulous set of guitar performances and it's ensemble music of the highest rank. It must not be missed if you want to stay on top of what is NEW!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Mr Ho's Orchestrotica Quartet, Where Here Meets There

The illustrious Mr. Ho and his Orchestrotica have been giving us some fine, lingering looks at the Space-Age Bachelor music of the late '50s-early '60s. We've covered most of them, if not all of them on this blogsite and the Gapplegate Music site.

Now he returns, this time in quartet form to explore the Bachelor Pad offshoot genre known as Exotica. The idea was to give the button-down salary slave of the conformist era an escape, an imaginary landscape of non-specific locality, a cobbled combination of an easy-on-the-ears ambiance and what the listener would recognize as some sort of musical representation of "paradise", which in the prevailing view (as seen for example in a number of Elvis Presley movies), had something to do with the South Seas and other less specific locales.

Les Baxter and Martin Denny were some of the prime artists in Exotica. It was for that new, sonically supercharged hi-fi that the bachelor had along with the wet bar, the modern furniture and so on. The records did well for a while, and then other things took their place, some listeners graduating to world music per se with releases on Folkways and other labels, others gravitating towards the Mystic Moods Orchestra and Psychedelia, others going still elsewhere.

But for a time there was an imaginary ethnic music that offered you a way out for a few hours of an evening.

Mr. Ho dedicates his new CD to the genre. Where Here Meets There (Tiki 003) gives us Ho's take on the land of the unfound in the form of a quartet. Now any Exotica record worth the listen just had to have alto flute, and for that matter I can recall James Bond soundtracks that did as well. So we have a nicely played alto flute throughout. Vibes were a must, also. Mr. Ho has them. Acoustic bass and drums were needed. Ho gives them to us. And of course there had to be exotic percussion and we get that, too. To spice things up even more, one cut has oud.

What's funny about it all is the "seriousness" of the recreation as is the case with Mr. Ho's other recordings. But what surprises you is that, yes, it is Exotica, but it also actually is very good for all that. These are nicely arranged numbers with players that can take a decent solo and whose ethnic touches are rather authentic, though of course mixed and matched in a crazy-quilt sort of way.

So it's actually good. It's what Martin Denny might have done if he were trying a little harder to really go exotic. Now all that makes me smile. But it also makes me listen with real interest. Hey!

Monday, November 25, 2013

All the Labor, A DVD Documentary on The Gourds

The story of the Austin, Texas, country rock group The Gourds is a story of a band that has spent considerably more than a decade together and has remained an underground thing. The fame of Nashville or top indie-alt billing is probably never to be theirs, yet they keep on. Fact is, they are too good for some music marketing channels today, maybe. The story is told well and exhaustively on the DVD film documentary All the Labor (MVD Visual 6044D). You get 96 minutes of the film, plus another 109 minutes of bonus, alts, extras.

There is a wealth of performance footage captured over different times in their history, some insightful narrative by the band members, and an overall look at the nonconformity and talent that make up the band. Suppose "The Band" started their career in 1999? In a way that is the fate of the Gourds. The music scene is no longer so open that rock and roots and talent can give you the sort of attention the Band got in their heyday.

But the Gourds seem unphased. They have multiple songwriters who are very good and keep producing. Their vocal mix is unparalleled. Musically they put together just what is needed for the songs--whether a folksy accordion, mandolin, ukulele, fiddle, electric and/or acoustic guitars, Fender bass, drums. They go from alt rock jamband hardness to yodelling country archaism in one set and they make it all seem like inevitability, though certainly none of it is.

They are funny, earthy guys and the love for what they do comes through strongly. It's a great story and it is told very well indeed. It may make you into a Gourds fan if you aren't already. So watch it and get that music in your head!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lurrie Bell, Blues in My Soul

The blues in my soul? When it's singer-guitarist Lurrie Bell you don't doubt it for a minute. He started as the new hope of Chicago blues in the '70s, paid some terrible dues and emerged triumphant, so that the title cut and title album at hand today is by right his to call. Blues in My Soul (Delmark 829) shows you that. It's the new one. And it's right there. Fourteen blues burners, blues scorchers, blues messages from one of the real-deal bluesmen today. Some of them are originals, some of them are revived classics, all of them ring with truth.

It's the Chicago style ensemble, guitar, harp, bass, piano or organ, drums and sometimes some horns to add a little heat. The band is hot. Lurrie Bell is hotter. This is no jive fake resurrection of folks who don't live the blues. Lurrie Bell lives that blues. You don't need anybody to tell you he does. You hear it.

Living in Chicago four years a long time ago, I came away UNDERSTANDING why so many good blues players have and are still coming out of Chicagoland. It's because the blues is a way of life, on the streets, in your crib, at the clubs. . . it's in YOUR SOUL only if you live it. And Lurrie Bell is a part of all that. It comes out of every pore when he's up there doing it. And this album gives you that. Try routing for the Cubs for 100 years, or ditching the landlord around the first of the month because nothing is right, try getting through a brutal Chi-town winter, which might start in September and end in June, and you'll start understanding something about life, yours, Chicago's, and cats like Lurrie Bell. It's not about shuffling. It's about getting through and getting something out of it that money can't begin to buy--though hey, money helps you keep doing what you gotta! It's blues for the long haul, not some faux revival.

So check this one!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Keith Jarrett, No End, 1986

If you live long enough, you eventually experience some surprises, not all of them bad.

Who would have thought that Keith Jarrett laid down some sides in his home studio in 1986? But I don't mean solo piano sides. No. Sides where he is playing electric guitar, electric bass, drums, percussion, some background vocal chants and just a hint of keys now and then, all overdubbed for a group sound. This month it came out, as a two-CD set, with the title No End (ECM).

This is music you can well appreciate if you empty out of your head what Keith Jarrett is supposed to be all about. Because this is different. True he did a folk-rock album in the 1960s, but it wasn't like it changed the world. This one may not do that either, but it's very good. It's Jarrett as a kind of one-man jamband.

He manages to sound a little like Jerry Garcia on guitar, no kidding. The percussion has that ethnic feel like you used to hear him do in the quintet days. The drums are busy but also hip--almost like a Mickey Hart. The electric bass playing is right there where the style would suggest.

Now we aren't talking about songs here so much as a series of jam segments. And they work! It isn't what you'd expect at all, but it grooves and goes its way very nicely. Hey, would I lie to you? This is a very cool set--so long as you don't expect what Keith would ordinarily be up to. He has something to say here. And say he does.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Billy Cardine, The April Sessions

Billy Cardine plays dobro guitar with such ability and a singing sense that you get a big old smile on your face listening to him. At least I do. I covered his Django-Gypsy jazz disk a while ago (type his name in the search box for that) and now I am back with another goodie. Billy joins together with a quartet this time on the album April Sessions (self-released) and it gets going! This is jazz/jazz-rock that hits home, thanks especially to Billy's amazing slide work. He is joined by very good players in Chris Rosser on piano (and second guitar for a track), River Guerguerian on drums, Zack Page on double bass, then Grant Gordy sits in on guitar for a track as well.

Everybody sounds great, the tunes are nice and what apparently was an impromptu gathering sends good vibes all the way.

I think Billy is pretty darned brilliant again here. It's a bright, glowing session for all of them though. Listen!

Monday, November 18, 2013

John Abercrombie Quartet, 39 Steps

John Abercrombie is one of the small handful of highly influential innovators of jazz guitar in my lifetime. I think most anybody who knows the history of the present would agree to that. So his new quartet album 39 Steps (ECM) got my full attention when I put it on. This one is so cool, so quiet. At first it nearly put me off. But no, I had to listen more. With Marc Copland on piano, Drew Gress on acoustic bass and Joey Baron on drums, I knew I had to keep listening.

And as I did I started picking up on how hard they were swinging, and how hip John Abercrombie's line weaving was. Good lord! The rhythm team of Gress and Baron are doing it, but sooo quietly. And Copland solos like you know he can.

The tunes are nice, subtle but filled with turns and twists. Six are by John, two by Marc, one collective improv and a good stab at "Melancholy Baby," which goes way back for me because it was the first Billie Holiday side I ever heard, an old 78 my buddy brought out of his parent's attic and came over with when I was in 8th grade. So I still love to hear the tune and John's is no rote rendition, as of course follows without a need for concern.

This is an album of great chemistry. Copland and Abercrombie have played together since the '70s, as the press sheet reminds us, and there is a tight-knit dialog between them that shows. You forget as you listen that two harmonic instruments like the guitar and piano together can start clashing if they don't have an intuitive feel for each other's playing. These guys most certainly do. No clashes whatsoever--just the opposite.

And hey, Gress and Baron are so together here.

All I can say is that by the fifth hearing (as I write this) I am way past the surprise at the coolness. The music has wrapped itself around me more than a few times and I am in the middle with a big appreciation. Wow!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nymph, Millennium Prayer

What's new under the sun? To me at least the band Nymph is a very new thing. I have been listening to their album Millennium Prayer (Northern Spy 040) for a number of consecutive days and I come away with a feeling that this is music that is NEW. They operate in a dynamic zone that features some great two-guitar interplay between Matty McDermott and Jim McHugh, some very ritualistic vocalizing by Eri Shoji, and a full band going at it on all fours, including sax and trumpet, percussion, bass and drums.

The music takes its own sort of psycho-trance, progressive-minimalist jamband-immediate sound and goes places with it. They are less involved with flat out jamming in the formulaic sense as they are in building parts up from scratch, some pre-ordained, some free, some sounding like extemporizations that fit the trance riffs, especially the intensely interesting lead guitar work. There are some great droning, raga rock moments too.

You take a few listens to get into it, then BOOM, it comes together. I can't say they sound particularly like anybody, because they don't. They do have some lineal connection with late '60s blow out bands but they take the impetus from there and make it all new.

Nymph? Check them out!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Wrong Object, After the Exhibition

The Wrong Object is Europe & Belgium's prize jazz-rock outfit these days. You can hear it on their last release After the Exhibition (MoonJune 055). It's a sextet of guitar, keys, two wind/sax players, electric bass and drums. Everybody is good, especially Michel Delville on guitar, who writes much of the material here.

The compositions and arrangements set them apart--much like the Soft Machine and Zappa (in a progressive jazz-rock mode) before them. The band is tight and filled with adventure, the charts are hip and the couple of vocals fit right in with it all.

I could listen to Michel Delville's playing all day. He's that good and into his own thing to boot. But the whole package rings true and gives you a most fascinating listen.

Absolutely recommended!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Robert Wyatt, '68

Drummer-singer-songwriter for the original Soft Machine lineup, Robert Wyatt had much to do with shaping the sound of that band in its early days. His whimsical songwriting style, faux casual vocal delivery and busy progressive drumming stamped the band as a world apart. Of course Mike Ratledge on keys gave the band something critical too, but then his influence stayed with the group throughout its first quasi-psychedelic period and through most of its later jazz-rock incarnation.

That first period was something in its own right. The Softs carved a distinct niche as a proto-progressive rock art band that sounded like nothing before. At the peak of the band's initial exposure (after touring with Hendrix) Robert Wyatt recorded some sides in a New York studio, then more in California. Only half of it ever saw the light of day. But now the whole is out and you can hear it as '68 (Cuneiform). There's a limited edition LP and a CD version as well. And it is most welcome for its own special qualities and the light it sheds on the period.

Wyatt comes through with a set of often quirky unpredictable numbers, playing many of the instruments himself (though Hendrix is on bass for one, and sometimes the keys sound uncannily like Ratledge) and giving us quite a bit more of the songwriting he was doing with the Softs. There is even a first version of "Moon in June", that iconic Wyatt song that formed a side later on when the Softs reformed and recorded the double-album Third. Here it has its own trajectory--not better than the Soft version, but interesting in its own way.

If you love Wyatt and the early Soft Machine's approach, this will most certainly be a revelation. Not everything here is a masterpiece--some is a little silly, but only a little bit of it. The rest you won't want to miss.

It's probably the reissue/unissue of the year for me. So give it an earful, please.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The East Village Other, Electric Newspaper, 50th Anniversary Reissue

The East Village Other (ESP 1034) LP was always something I wondered about in my proto-vinyl days, partly because it was listed on other ESP liner sleeves from time-to-time, also because a tantalizing minute of it was on the first ESP Sampler. With the 50th Anniversary CD reissue of the disk I now get a chance to experience the full album.

It is much a document of the period and the realms that ESP situated themselves in. The East Village Other was one of the first underground papers of the heady sixties. This album was the aural equivalent. It's a collage of many disparate strands, media coverage of the Nixon and Johnson childrens' weddings, recorded off a plastic clock radio, music by Allen Ginsberg, Steve Weber, the Velvet Undergound, Marion Brown, Tuli Kupferberg and some oddball interview segments conducted by Ed Sanders and Ken Weaver.

I won't tell you that this is indispensable in any sense. Some of it may not translate to our era because it was, face it, experimental in all senses. And that was the import and impact of the underground scene then. Some of it has frankly ribald contents, so keep the kiddies out of the room. If you are into Fugs-related things this has a fair deal of it. And it captures part of an an age long gone but still very much worth exploring.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Oil City Confidential, The Story of Dr. Feelgood, DVD

Canvey Island, England, a combination of industrial oil refineries, seedy coastal resort hovels and working-class neighborhood dwellings. It was and is the home for the roots rocking proto-punk band Dr. Feelgood. It forms an important backdrop for the story of the rise and fall of the band, as portrayed in the Julien Temple film Oil City Confidential (Cadiz DVD 125), now out on enhanced DVD with added interview footage.

What's really captivating about the film is the stunning footage of an industrial rust belt world, the life history of the band members growing up there, the articulate-funny candor of surviving band members and locals, perhaps especially guitarist Wilco Johnson, and the band performance footage integrated into the whole.

The group may not be remembered today so much but that is a mistake. They gave the British music scene a hard roots jolt and paved the way for groups like the Sex Pistols and Clash, but were a real power entity in their own right. The thing that grabs me about the film is that it brings a world alive in brilliant ways--even if you don't know or even don't think you care about the Dr. Feelgood history. It won't matter because in the end you will, but in the process you'll be subjected to documentary creative film making at its very best!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Zsófia Boros, En otra parte

Zsófia Boros exudes an extra-worldly beauty when she plays the classical guitar. This I discovered to my delight on auditioning her recent ECM debut En otra parte (ECM B0019042-02). It's her, her guitar, that marvelous ECM sound and a great selection of compositions that she has gotten inside of. Nothing else. But why would you need anything else?

I jump ahead and you have not heard the CD yet. Let me describe it a bit more. She is Hungarian, but she has mastered the Spanish-American idiom with a real flair. The compositions are principally from the Americas and they are well-chosen to evoke nuances and shades of sound color that she brings out in excellent fashion. But to be more specific there is a good deal of music by Cuban classic-modernist Leo Brouwer, and they are something to hear. There is a fine work by the Spaniard Calleja, another by Amigo, something very beautiful by the Brazilian Dilermando Reis, then there are intriguing works by Argentianians Sinesi, Miller, and Fleury, and, yes, very fittingly given the provenance of this recording, Ralph Towner.

As my press sheet eloquently puts it, the composers represented generally have been "wanderers between worlds, musically, philosophically and geographically." And so Boros wishes to address what the title of the album suggests, which comes from Roberto Jarroz’s “Todo comienza en otra parte” (“Everything begins somewhere else”). Now that's pretty darned profound to me, even though as I write this it is a Monday morning to a week I might prefer be deferred to some other indefinite time. Our music world today is redolent with this and Boros nails down something critical there. We begin in one place in whatever sense. Where we end, today more than ever, will inevitably be another.

Now all that is fine and dandy but would mean less if it weren't for the extraordinary nature of Boros and her artistry, and the rather clear path the compositions have taken into her inner being. She breathes these works, literally brings them to life with such care and devotion, such a marvelous touch, that you totally believe with her that THIS is the music she should be playing right now, and that THIS is what we should be listening to, wherever we are and wherever we came from to the here we are inside of, come what may.

We should.