Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Noah Young, Freaks: No Fear of Contagion

I reviewed the out-of-print Unicorn Dream LP by Noah Young last November 4 on my Gapplegate Music Blog (http://gapplegatemusicreview.blogspot.com/2013/11/noah-young-unicorn-dream.html). I did it because I believe it should be reissued, because it's a terrific album, and because Noah is my friend and he needs in his illness to know he is much appreciated.

Today another, a combination of four excellent cuts from Noah's then trio--Noah on 5 string acoustic bass, Lanny Aplanalp on soprano, tenor and flute, and Fred Stofflet on drums--and the spoken prose-poetry of Noah.

It's an unusual combination of spoken word and free jazz. Freaks: No Fear of Contagion (New Alliance CD117) I think this is also out of print, but, again, it should not be.

The trio cuts--enough for one side of an LP, are fabulous. Noah is a real dynamo on bass and his partners are kicking it nicely. These compositions, as those on Unicorn Dream, show another side of Maestro Young.

The prose poems show Noah in a contrasting zone. They apply a sense of real compassion with a razor-thin analytical series of insights. The musician in him carries forward in his poems to Ayler and David Izenzon. He otherwise covers in a series of word-art vignettes those who one way or another have to fight to live--those afflicted with AIDS, dysfuntional families, the nightmare of addiction, those facing their demise (as are we all, sooner or later) countered by the will to heal, to feel what it's like in other's shoes and to try and help.

It all fits together to give you a creatively committed portrayal of the man, Noah Young. I posted this today because if I am not mistaken it marks the birthday of his late, beloved wife, lost to Noah and his family some years passed. Let this post mark a tribute to her courage. And Noah has been ill for some time, no longer can play, but fights on valiantly. This is music and word-wielding that should not go into the great dark night of unavailable obscurities. If you are into some very hip free jazz and an excellent bassist, you'll stay for the evocative wordage, of people in sorrow and searching for some happiness, of staying the course. Check the net and you'll no doubt find a copy for sale somewhere or other. And somebody who can--put this and Unicorn Dream out again! On this eve of 2014 may we find the will to continue, to heal, to thrive. Noah would like that, for us all.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Arnold Dreyblatt & Megafaun, Appalachian Excitation

When a disk goes on and you think, "what?", it's a good sign. That was my reaction when I listened the first time to the pairing of Arnold Dreyblatt (string bass, composer) and the roots-psych trio Megafaun on their first collaborative effort Appalachian Excitation (Northern Spy 044).

The "what" has to do with the unexpected way the music goes about it. They rock or march but in an unusually primal, almost minimal way. Primal in that there are elemental intervallic drones that can combine with advanced harmonic droning chords or just trance out with rock drums beating underneath.

Megafaun is Phillip Cook (here on banjo, modified electric guitar and "moog lap steel"), Bradley Cook (electric bass, acoustic guitar and mandolin) and Joseph Westerlund (drums, percussion and electric guitar). Take that and add the "excited" string bass of Mr. Dreyblatt (I take excited to mean played by means of a motorized friction or other than with the hands in general?).

When you get to the third piece, it's multi-layered sustains without beat, cosmically irradiating like an elaborate cartoon sun. They get such interesting sounds and there is enough change within the unified structure that it is mind-bending and acoustically interesting without straying too far on either side of the both/and.

The final cut gets back into a march beat and another series of trance-beated drone repeaters.

I cannot say this sounds like anything else, except if we were on another planet and were treated to a performance of the folk-rock the "natives" had independently created? The fact that it's different is one thing. The fact that it locks together and does it all very properly indeed is another thing.

It's a weirdo winner--from all hands! Seriously.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Dickens Campaign, Oh Lovely Appearance

Who are the Dickens Campaign and why that name? Dickens...as in Deric Dickens, drummer, composer, bandleader. Their first album, Oh Lovely Appearance (Mole Tree Music 003), finally has made its way to the top of my review pile, and I am glad for it, because it's a different sort of sound. Deric on drums, Kirk Knuffke on cornet and Jesse Lewis on electric guitar.

The music can be compositional, free-flowing open-air spatial, or it can get a bit of a rock edge especially with Jesse's fine guitar work. There are things that look to an earlier time while looking ahead, and there are things that just sound like these three when they get together. Kirk plays some terrific cornet throughout, clean or brassy, a real phraser. He writes some game tunes here also (as does Dickens).

Deric plays some very propulsive drums which sound just right in this somewhat spare, spatially wide threesome. Jesse plays some very hip guitar here also.

There is an inextricability to this--like Giuffre's threesomes with Jim Hall (RIP, Jim), there's no taking away any of them. It's a three-way sound that has been fashioned with some care and each has a vital role to play.

There is something old, classic in its newness, especially coming out of Kirk. That doesn't mean he is in any way old-school, but the sound is classic.

This one is a definite score. Listen a few times and you'll get something you can't really find elsewhere.


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Living Earth Show, High Art

I like it when I am sent corkingly good yet totally unexpected musical combinations. I like to be rocked to my foundations as to what is supposed to go with what and I think it's good for us all to loosen up and see/hear all the possibilities that can be musically, which are infinite, never-ending.

So that's what dawned on me as I listened to The Living Earth Show and their album High Art (Innova 863). In a way the title is a commentary, an aside, because sure, this is "High Art" but it participates in some way with things that at one point were considered "Low Art", namely music that involves electric guitar and drums. Most of us by now have dismissed the high/low distinction. If it's good, it's not a matter of altitude, or it all is high, depending on how you look at it.

And the irony of the title also has to do with the fact that this duo is performing "new music", contemporary compositional music that you or I could easily file away under "modern classical" without any compunction, what is traditionally in the "High Art" camp.

That is all interesting and food for thought but it would not mean much if the music was uninteresting. And that is not so. It is very interesting. So who are these guys? It is Travis Andrews on electric guitar and Andy Meyerson on percussion, which means principally vibes, drums and hand percussion. They perform four different works (and one is performed in two different realizations) by the new sort of composers, people you may not be familiar with (or then again, you might). They are Samuel Carl Adams, Timo Andres, Adrian Knight, and Jon Russell.

Each work has its own sound world, from a slightly "Moon Child", semi-Fripp-like gentle work to soundscapes of great beauty, to heavy metal and anything goes. The artistry of the players is obvious and the compositions bring out a unique something that has been influenced by the spatial qualities of new music and its unfolding but also from the advanced rock realm as we've experienced it from the psychedelic era onwards.

Through the magic of overdubbing we may get vibes along with hand percussion and drums, for example, so the sound can be larger than a typical duo would suggest. In any case the music is really fetching, if you give it the time and space to unfold.

It will be manna for electric guitar fans and players, and the same goes for the percussion end. Most importantly it is music that sings in your head, sets up rarified moods, blows you away in different ways for every work.

I reviewed the album here rather than on the Classical-Modern site because I figure it can do the most deconstructive rethinking non-damage from this end. What is music? Here is one good answer. Listen to this one and you might start opening up even more than what is ordinary for the adventurous audience. I did. Opened up more, I mean.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mulatu Astatke, Sketches of Ethiopia

The anthology Ethiopiques woke many of us up, myself included, to how hip the funky Ethiopian version of Afrobeat/Afrojazz was. And now as we contemplate a new year I am glad to say that new Ethiopian music in this vein is emerging afresh.

Mulatu Astatke has a good one out on Jazz Village (570015) that's called Sketches of Ethiopia. As I listen again while writing up the review this morning I revel in it. Good Ethiopian music of this sort tends to keep bluesy and harmonic minor tonalities intact and puts a hip AfroBeat combination of the tribal and the groove overtop. With the Ethiopian version of this kind of groove there's a bit less of the James Brown influence and just a bit more of the jazz lineage there. So it is with Maestro Astatke; in fact he is even more jazz-oriented here than what you might have heard on Ethiopiques. You hear indigenous stringed instruments rub shoulders with jazz horns, piano, electric bass and drums, grooving down on what is at the base very Ethiopian but then very jazzed as well--with solo time as well as basic feel involved.

Astatke goes back a ways. He collaborated with Duke Ellington, I read on the net. I am not sure I know of that as far as recordings go, but I would certainly want to hear it if it exists out there based on this album! He's been around as percussionist and composer but this is his first album on a well-distributed label. There are some assorted vocals now and then and they are cool. The music speaks in whatever they do here. Don't hesitate!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog Records of the Year, 2013

I decided it was time to start picking my records of the year for the majority of genres I cover. I did not in the past, except to name Wadada Leo Smith's major album set last year, partially because the genres were mixed up higgledy-piggledy in the various blogsites and partially because everything that makes it into a review here is a winner, or else I would not review it. That latter is still true, but with the maturation of my blog pages it's more clear than ever what goes where, as much as that can be. So I am picking this year for nine categories. See the other blogsites for the rest of my choices. Here are the three choices for the Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog.

Best Album, Guitar: Gary Lucas, Cinefantastique (Northern Spy) See review, December 12, 2013.

Best Album, Bass: Shayna Dulberger, Ache & Flutter (Empty Room) See review, December 5, 2013.

Best Album, Rock: Robert Wyatt, '68 (Cuneiform) See review, November 13, 2013.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sly & Robbie, Stepper Takes the Taxi

Reggae Dub is that old style tradition--what labels like Trojan generally did with their "B" side 45s. The vocal version would be the "A" side, then the flip side would feature the instrumental tracks from the song, with some echo and maybe a touch of the vocals thrown in. If the groove was a good one everything worked out great. Apparently it came out of what reggae DJs would do with the spins in the clubs...

Sly is drummer Sly Dunbar; Robbie is bassist Robbie Shakespeare (and he is a mother). Sly & Robbie have gone back to that dub tradition and made a whole CD of new dubs in the old style--great grooves back-to-back--and actually according to the press sheet some old dubs are mixed in there, too. The album is called Stepper Takes the Taxi (MVD Audio 5846A). It stars a cat named Stepper, aka Giullame, who plays sax and sounds cool--not like he's a new Trane or anything, but his horn parts are hip. The mix is done by one Fabwise, a dubmaster on the rise. It all works.

Great music comes in lots of forms. This is great reggae dub that clicks perfectly. Bass players, listen to what's going on in that department. There are some very hip bass tracks here. The rhythm sections cook and the horns give out with sheer hipness. So get this one and it will put you in a fantastic mood!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ralph Towner, Travel Guide

Ralph Towner is a guitarist that exemplifies Ellington's idea of music "beyond category". For years he has refused to be stereotyped as only a modern jazz, new classical or fusion artist, but instead has directed his full, exceptionally talented self to wherever his music takes him.

You know that is still the case when you savor his new album, Travel Guide (ECM 2310). It's a continuation of a three-way collaboration between Towner on classical and 12-string guitars, Wolfgang Muthspiel on electric guitar and vocals, and Slava Grigoryan on classical and baritone guitars. The threesome have been working together off and on since 2005. The intersection of styles makes for a totally absorbing music. Muthspiel the very tasteful electrician, Slava Grigoryan an exceptional classicist and Ralph somewhere between the two.

There are five compositions by Towner and five by Muthspiel on the album. All have something of that open-spaced sound that Towner often favors and, as it turns out, the other two also feel comfortable within.

This is considerably lyrical music. Not surprising if you know Towner's work but equally so of the other two. The guitar playing mixes improvisation (of the exceptional sort) with compositional works that stand out.

It should be heard by you if a jazz-classical nexus in guitar artistry floats your boat. If you don't know what that means, then listen anyway and I think you will be transported.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gary Lucas, Cinefantastique

There is so much to say about Gary Lucas and his new album Cinefantastique (Northern Spy 043) that I scarcely know where to start. So I'll just start. Solo Gary Lucas guitar is such an entity unto itself that there is really nothing that compares. He has over the years developed his very own sounds, plural, that make him instantly recognizable and at this point inimitable.

There of course is the electric Gary, with Strat and effects pedals playing live in orchestral magnificence. There is Gary on his old Gibson acoustic. And there is Gary on dobro. In each case it isn't just what he plays but how he sounds. I won't pretend I know exactly how he does it--but through a combination of the strings he uses, his tunings, his attack, his use of harmonics and such he gets an extraordinarily bright, wiry tone on the Gibson (and the dobro), a wonderfully singing tone on the Strat. And of course you can hear all of that most vividly on Cinefantastique.

This is about that and it also is about Gary's love of film. He has chosen for this album themes from movies both iconic, known, less known, and otherwise very idiomatic to Gary's all-embracing musicality. Some of his now well-known guitar soundtracks for classic silent films are nicely touched upon, with J'accuse, Spanish Dracula, and 20 minutes of Etr'acte. These are excellent examples of the self-inventing Gary. But then all of this is.

Because whatever the context or theme, his own sensibility is out front, paradigmatically so. "Bali Ha'i" from South Pacific has unforgettable voicings and string accentuations of the implicit melodic-harmonic implications. So too the tuning and playing on "Our Love is Here to Stay" (from An American in Paris) has virtually a recomposition going for it in the bluesy country picking he has created, the tuning which gives him some really hip out and in qualities, plus a harmonic so well-placed that it puts everything together.

Part of this is like John Fahey's famous holiday season arrangements for acoustic. Only better. Better because Gary has the ears to make the tunings work completely and utterly--and because it has more imagination going on, much as I love Fahey.

I must mention some of the amazing electric work--on for example "Vertigo/Psycho" (Alfred's tribute) and "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (Herzog's masterpiece). It is a translation of the original music to what Gary does with the etherial pedal effects, the driving electricity, the eerie space notes and chords. These are arrangements he's refined and worked over for years and they sound sooo good.

Finally two things. One is the Guaraldi "Charlie Brown" theme. Gary translates the melody-harmony to open tuning and virtually reworks the music so that you still recognize it but it plays that much more brilliantly as it lays out on the open-tuned, finger-picked acoustic.

I conclude with an example of Gary's famous neo-quasi-all-over-again synchronicity that I am constantly experiencing with him. I jokingly said several weeks ago in a review of harp concertos on the classical blog that I love the harp so much I would even like the "Howdy Doody" theme song if it were played on the instrument. Well, so here is Gary playing it--goofing around, but playing a brilliant thirty seconds on the dobro. So I was wrong in a way--it was Gary who could make an arrangement of just about anything and it would sound great. No of course this isn't some psychic kismet--but just an example of how he has taken in the music of our times and reworked it all.

And one thing (as Nixon used to say) that you should make no mistake about. Nixon didn't have Maestro Lucas in mind, but make no mistake about this: Cinefantastique is landmark music--landmark playing, landmark musical thinking. It's a guitar solo landmark, no kidding! Make no mistake about that.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dewa Budjana, Joged Kahyangan

Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana is back with his second album for MoonJune Records, Joged Kahyangan (MoonJune 059). He's made some very many albums with pop-rock group Gigi, which have sold well internationally, but as a solo artist he's more into jazz-rock fusion sounds. This latest album gives us nice, somewhat on the mellow side tunes, some excellent playing by Dewa and a band of heavies--Larry Goldings, Bob Mintzer, Jimmy Johnson, Peter Erskine, and singer Janis Siegel for a track.

What I like about this one is the subtle integration of Indonesian elements and what Dewa lays down on guitar in the midst of it all. He has a great tone and a rhythmic sense that sets him apart. It makes for very pleasing listening.

I hear his next will be a power trio outing. I look forward to that. Meanwhile this is quite nice.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Shrunken Head Shop, Live in Germany

If there's justice in the music world (and there is) much of it has something to do with talent getting heard...eventually. Here it is December, for example, and a recording I received at the beginning of September is finally finding its way to review here. It's not that I didn't appreciate it on first hearing. I did. But this final quarter I have literally been bombarded with music. Sometimes just to get through them the first time becomes a chore. And then my life--as chaotic as side one of Ascension lately. No excuses, though.

So let's press on. We are talking about guitarist Willie Oteri and the band Shrunken Head Shop--and their album Live in Germany (Oteri Tunes). It's good. It was recorded during their tour of Europe in 2012. Willie was a big part of WD-41. Now he finds a kind of out post-Bitches' Brew groove but without a lot of emphasis on groove--with a bit more in the way of a very loose but very appealing kind of tapestry of sound. Dave Laczko of WD-41 is back on trumpet and he plays a integral part of the proceedings. Then there are some hip German and Italian musicians in the band, including Sylvia Oelkrug, violin, Schroeder, drums, Jan Fitschen, bass and stick, Alex Arcuri, electric bass and Konrad Wiemann, percussion.

What grabs me about this is how well the collective freedom is used by all to get a spacey exploration going while consistently keeping it filled with good spontaneous events. Willie's playing is excellent throughout and trumpet and violin interact particularly well with guitar. Then when the basses get it going that's a good thing as well. But everybody is on the mark here.

If you are into post-prog electric freedom and are ready for something different in that zone, this is most definitely ear-candy for your listening mind.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Shayna Dulberger, Ache & Flutter

Lest we forget that "and Bass" is in the title of this review blog, it is time to get back to some new releases by bassists. Up today is a new album by Shayna Dulberger, upright bassist of tensile strength and inventiveness. The album is a quartet outing, titled Ache & Flutter (Empty Room Music 006) and it is excellent. This is music in the avant, open free jazz zone. It ripples with charged energy.

The band is Shayna plus Chris Welcome on electric guitar, Yori Kretzmer on tenor sax, and Carlo Costa on drums. This is what's great about Brooklyn, or one of the things. Jazz artists of stature, both known and unknown, live there and there is continual cross-fertilizations going on all the time, something so necessary for a "scene" to come about. Here are four artists you may not know very well but it takes a Brooklyn to get them together and get them TOGETHER, so to say.

There are eleven short numbers, all written by Ms. Dulberger, all driving the music and giving the players paces to slot into and thrive. And they do. Shayna has that very percussive push that reminds me of Mingus. Whether soloing, teaming up in a killer rhythm tandem with Carlo Costa, forming a four-way persona in ensemble improvisations or getting involved with the compositional motives, she shows what an artist she is on the bass. It is no accident that William Parker, bass titan, writes some very complementary liner notes in the inner sleeve of this album. She is a heavy and shows us how and why on this album.

But the band is hot, too. Costa is a drummer of excellent musicality and gets a head of froth going when needed or lays back and swings strongly but not loudly. Chris Welcome plays lines on the guitar that identify him as Chris Welcome, himself and nobody else. They are melodically-harmonically out but also mostly linear in that horizontal lining sense that lays the artist bare before the listening ear and puts the immediacy at stake at every moment.

Yori Kretzmer has character in his tenorism. He has lots of SOUND in his playing, controlled human utterance plus outness that can be gruff or winding along post Lester-Trane-Rivers. It's the what as well as the how with him too, since these are hip out lines going places but also sounding skywards.

What we have is 42 important minutes of music, showing this band to be a contender on the avant scene today, showing Shayna a bandleader that (I sure hope) is here to stay, a very good writer of the structured tune-composition frameworks, and a bassist that is right there, right here, right wherever she is, a real player!

So if what I wrote just now makes you think you might like this one--believe me I am not saying it all for my health! It is what it is--but what that is, IS! In the best sense of IS!

For more information on Shayna Dulberger's recordings and to order paste the following address into your browser and hit "enter": http://shaynadulberger.com/Albums.html#AF

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tarun Balani Collective, Sacred World

Some fusion/prog from Mumbai, India? Mumbai (formerly named Bombay) is a city with a rich musical heritage, of course, but we don't get much in the way of jazz/prog over here from there. Here's one that's very good. We have the Tarun Balani Collective doing Sacred World (self-released).

Tarun plays the drums with flair and wrote all the compositions. Sharik Hasan plays a central role as pianist, with much of the key compositional elements getting foundation in what he does, but then he voices and solos nicely too. Aditya Balani plays electric and acoustic guitar, and sometimes you can detect a touch of Metheny/early Abercrombie there. He's good and takes it his own way. Bruno Reberg plays contrabass and does a fine job anchoring it all. He also takes some nice solos with a woodiness that is cool. And then there is Suhail Yusuf Khan on Sarangi and vocals--it sounds like he is playing with a plectrum rather than a bow sometimes but it's very good.

So put all of this together and you have distinctive South Asian jazz-rock-prog-fusion that does not sound like what you'd expect and that does not matter because it has its own way. It's lyrical, it moves. Well done!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Mike Keneally, You Must Be This Tall

The term "progressive rock" in some ways became as unwelcome in the '70s as that of "cool jazz" in the '50s. Sure, in both cases the music sometimes suffered from excesses and the reaction against it with "punk" and "hard bop" was predictable and perhaps inevitable. Nonetheless there was plenty there in both cases of music that was totally valid, excellent, worth hearing still.

So if I tell you that Mike Keneally's album You Must Be This Tall (Exowax 2414) might be thought of as progressive rock today, you must not take that as to mean that you are in for some kind of pretentious synth version of the "1812 Overture" or something of that ilk.

It is complexly arranged compositional rock that takes the best of Zappa in his ambitious moments and groups like Yes and perhaps a hint of Pink Floyd's middle period . . . or at least it's music that has something in common with that, but made into a new something.

Keneally plays a very nice electric guitar along with acoustic, synths, bass and vocals. There are live drums much of the time played by Marco Minnemann. It's new advanced, "progressive" rock that rings true and does not at all play on nostalgia as much as builds a music on the foundations of the past.

Keneally is a guitarist with excellent taste and sound, a rock composer with a great sense. And the album fully satisfies a need for some hip complexity that always remains musical. So, there.