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.

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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Kayhan Kalhor, Erdal Erzincan, Kula Kulluk Yakasir Mi, Mid-Eastern Classical Music

I grew up in the generation that believed in the idea of "Brahms, not bombs". There has been nothing that has happened in my eventful life to change my mind. "We" may not have always gotten along with all other nations and people in my lifetime, but I do believe in the power of music to heal us all and eliminate the distance between self and others, or at least understand what positive difference there can be and what can reconcile those so we all can get on with our lives. So much for my pitch as to the power of music.

But there is more, wait. One way to embrace differences in a positive way is to explore the rich heritage of humankind's music-making. No serious student of music, the guitar and/or any instrumental tradition one might work in can afford to ignore the great traditions of other places, and sometimes, other times.

In the spirit of this and because the CD at hand is such an excellent example of another tradition, I give to you Kayhan Kalhor and Erdal Erzincan's Kula Kulluk Yakisir Mi (ECM B0018884-02). It is a live date of two extraordinary virtuosos performing Mid-Eastern classical music. Maestro Kalhor is Persian and plays a fiddle-like instrument called the kamancheh; Maestro Erzincan hails from Turkey and plays a lute-ish instrument called the baglama. The repertoire is for the most part traditional. There is long developmental scalar improvisations, important compositional motifs and a general ambiance of concentrated ultra-expression.

This is not their first album but it is an excellent album. Listening is the best way to understand why this music is essential. I recommend it without reservation. These two are marvelous musicians.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Studebaker John's Maxwell Street Kings, Kingsville Jukin'

Everybody is always talking about what went down at Sun Records and how that managed to conjoin the blues with what eventually became known as rock. Now I have nothing bad to say about all that. But from the perspective of right now, it seems to me that what went down in Chicago, both right then and a little bit later, has proved to be more influential to rock (at least once England got into what was doing) than Presley, Lewis and those cats did, though of course Elvis got all that attention.

Think of Elmore James and the classic bluesman who recorded for Chess, Checker, VeeJay and of course eventually Delmark. To me they stand the test of time and get more hard rocking things happening that still sound as good today as ever. I don't really care if somebody says I am wrong about it. My ears tell me.

Very much on that note today is Studebaker John's Maxwell Street Kings and their new album Kingsville Jukin' (Delmark 830). Now this isn't the first from this guy, but man, it's the BEST. Studebaker John gives out with the vocals, harmonica and hard-driving rhythm guitar and he is aided and abetted by a hot band of 2nd guitar, bass and drums.

What gets me especially about this new one is how consistently they hit it with that old time hard rockin' Chicago blues. It's 16 slices of stompin' swamp rock that does not let up. Some songs you'll probably get the feeling you recognize somehow, some not. But it's the best kind of deja vu because unlike Yogi Berra's version it isn't "all over again". It's been there but its back, it's new. Because it has enough that identifies it as Studebaker John and his band that you don't at all feel like a clone in cloneland. It's Kingsvilleland, and you are no clone, right?

I am not going to lie to you. Why would I? I am not getting paid to say it. I am not getting paid, PERIOD, dig? THIS is gonna pop your cork if you gravitate to that hard rocking, boogie jukin', no-prisoners-taking stomp. And my partner Susan agrees, so that seals it. I tell you no lie. Get this one and roll back the rug!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ellery Eskelin, Susan Alcorn, Michael Formanek, Mirage

There can be no real rules that limit the way music can and should be made, except those the musicians themselves choose to accept. This is how we get innovation, how music can flourish, advance. And so today we have an example of a trio working within the freestyle world of today's avant jazz, who have adopted certain practices and have agreed (not necessarily by a lot of verbal discussion, but at least intuitively so) on a set of assumptions to create a series of improvisations that have their own internal consistency.

I speak of the album Mirage (Clean Feed 271) as played by Ellery Eskelin on tenor sax, Susan Alcorn on pedal steel guitar and Michael Formanek on acoustic bass.

These three are well-suited to work together in the exploratory zone. Eskelin has for quite some time been a tenor player of great imagination and inventiveness. He comes through once again here with some inspired playing. Susan Alcorn may not be a household name right now but has established herself as that most unusual of things, a free-avant player of the pedal steel guitar and she is good, very good. Then there is Michael Formanek, a contrabasses's bassist, a guy that can and does do it all, whether pizzicato or arco.

Put the three together and set them loose as they are on this album, and you have something. In some ways it is the plastic, open sound of Alcorn's guitar that immediately places this sound world elsewhere than where one might expect. But then it's the three together that make real magic. It's a live recording from 2011. It was a most productive meeting.

You really should hear this one.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Gene Ess, Fractal Attraction

There is never a shortage of lesser known, upcoming players out there. What of course is heartening is that some of them are very good. Guitarist Gene Ess is one, as much here today as upcoming, that caught my ear by way of his album Fractal Attraction (SIMProductions 130315). He graduated from Berklee after studying with Jerry Bergonzi and Charlie Banacos and moved to New York in 1991. He was a member of the celebrated Rashied Ali's group through 2003. And he has gotten attention and acclaim with two albums prior to this one.

Fractal Attraction is an album in the progressive contemporary jazz mode. It features some hip, sophisticated compositions by Ess and one co-written with vocalist Thana Alexa, as well as one wholly by Alexa, who is an important part of the quintet on the album. She is featured as wordless vocalist and scat artist to very good effect. Rounding out the band is David Berkman playing some rather advanced piano and a strong rhythm team of Thomson Kneeland (bass) and Gene Jackson (drums).

The band has very much its own sound--thanks in part to the melodic-harmonic stylistic progressiveness of the compositions, the vocalist as ensemble member and the beautifully acrobatic playing of Maestro Ess. It's music that pulsates nicely, has interesting changes-based improvisation structures and maintains a consistently high level of musicianship from first to last.

Thana has real scatting chops and holds her own as a "horn" in the soloing routines. Gene can blaze over a set of changes in very cool ways while keeping a personal style to the forefront. He isn't a "sounds like x" player so much as HE is an X himself, which is saying a great deal in a contemporary guitar world filled with influenced players.

The whole band has something going for themselves. Fractal Attraction will give great pleasure to those who like jazz that is fully of today yet has postbop roots. And the Gene Ess guitar presentation will make you a believer. Lots of wonderful music here. Get it!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Simak Dialog, The 6th Story

The Indonesian fusion group Simak Dialog makes music like nobody else. They are into I believe by now their 6th album, aptly titled The 6th Story (MoonJune 056). It plays on my computer as I write this.

The new album continues the trajectory set by the others. A three-piece Indonesian percussion section lays down a hip combination of traditional rhythms and more fusoid beats. The bass guitar of Adhitya Pratama, the guitar of Tohpati, and the keys of Riza Arshad layer on top in a deft combination of contemporary fusion and melodically Indonesian elements.

Chick Corea in Java? Not exactly. Riza is the composer and engineer for these sides and he plays some very respectable keys, both solo and ensemble. His compositions have heft and much originality. Tohpati can rock-fuze out in his own original way and he does. The melody lines often feature intricate guitar-key lines that keep the ears perked up. And Tohpati gets some excellent guitar solos going now and again for you plectrum fans.

By now there is a very strong music meld between group members. They are tight and very simpatico. They may rock a little less hard on some numbers than on some previous albums but there is continuous flow throughout and the music is challenging in interesting ways, always.

It's another winner. You might do well to start with one of the earlier ones if you don't know the band (do a search in the appropriate window on this page for reviews of older albums), but this one gives you Simak Dialog in full bloom. Listen and dig!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Gary Lucas, Touched by Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley

Ding-dong! A couple of nights ago my doorbell rang. It was the UPS, delivering a mysterious package. I opened it with some haste. "Oh, good. The publisher sent me a review copy of Gary Lucas's book," I mumbled to myself. I had heard about it. Of course I was and am no stranger to Gary Lucas and his music. I consider him one of the very most important, most innovative guitarists of our era. And the book is about a momentous time in his career--his collaboration with the exceptional vocalist/poetic lyricist and expressionist Jeff Buckley. I was glad to know more of the details since the music had struck a nerve with me.

And so the next day I hunkered down with the book, Touched By Grace: My Time with Jeff Buckley (Jawbone, 317 pp., paperbound). It is a page turner. In two days I was finished reading it, touched by the grace in my own way.

I always knew Gary could write. I knew his background. I had read some of his more casual social media posts and other, more polished, more developed things. But none of that quite prepared me for THIS.

It tells the sort of story legends are made of--only it is a slice of real life, surely not a legend at the core. No. It's too real, too heartbreaking a tale to read for it to be a legend in itself. Yet it tells the tale of an industry that often by definition is in the legend-making business. Jeff Buckley from the start of his public career had a special something about him that made him grist for the legend-maker's mill. But Gary Lucas tells us... the truth about the whole jumping, complex set of events leading to the creation of the legend and in the end gives us a stunningly clear picture of the many contradictions, interdictions and general sweet-fast talking jive behind what ultimately launched Jeff's career and perhaps led him into dangerous psychic territory and destruction in the end.

I am getting ahead of the story though. And this story is as much about Gary and his circumstantial yet fundamental presence within the story as it is about how the musical/starformed Jeff Buckley came to be.

So let's backtrack. It starts with Gary AFTER his seminal association with Captain Beefheart, Gary the talented but under-challenged copywriter for well over a decade at Columbia Records. The music business in that period, at least the major-label part of it, had begun to drift away somewhat from its flirtations with the underground art-rock that had changed the music scene so radically from the later '60s on. There was a kind of rock midlife no-man's land developing, a gradually increasing re-emphasis on the "hits or nothing" perspective of earlier years.

We catch Gary in the middle of the drift, pretty disgusted with his role in the big machine and its increasing tendency to play it safe, 35 years old, knowing in his heart that he needed to play the guitar and make a statement about what rock still was capable of and what it could be. He returns to the guitar with renewed determination, as a solo act playing marvelous near orchestral pedal-enhanced music on the six-string to no small acclaim. He then forms his band Gods and Monsters, which eventually includes a female singer who falls in at first with what Gary is looking for. He quits the copywriting job and gets the attention of the right folks at Columbia, namely Rick Chertoff, and lands a tentative commitment from them to do an album deal.

Yet there was a willful strain in the Gods and Monsters singer at the time, an ambition to take the music in a direction that in the end did not meet with a good deal of enthusiasm from either Gary or the label.

All that leads up to one of those Kis-metic situations that changes everything. An old acquaintance is putting together a Tim Buckley tribute concert. Tim's son Jeff, then completely unknown in music circles, was going to do some singing as part of the events. Would Gary like to get together with Jeff and work up a couple of numbers for the show?

From that very first moment Gary met with Jeff things started falling very much together. At the same time things also began a slow unravelling, began to fall very much apart, but in ways that were not initially apparent. From that first collaborative moment when the two began working out material together it was clear that something momentous was taking shape. Yet the centrifugal-centripetal forces inherent in Jeff Buckley's complex personality would ultimately bring it all to a grinding halt. Gary does a great job portraying Jeff as a bundle of contradictions: vulnerable-ruthless, open-stubborn, somewhat naive, kind and loving, yet easy prey to the temptation to be single-minded, self-destructive, overweeningly ambitious, duplicitous. Jeff's then hidden dark side combined with some music business machinations and the result was far from pretty.

But for a short, wonderful period of time musical magic reigned. Gary tells brilliantly the happy-sad exhilarating-brooding saintly-demonic story of Jeff Buckley the enigma yet perhaps all the more brilliant at times for it, their volatile but hugely kinetic-cathartic mutual musical combustion-collaboration. The music business side as well as the creative side get detailed, pinpoint-brilliant scrutiny from Gary. Perhaps most fascinating is Gary's right-there description of how they worked together, Gary crafting an intricate, musically contentful foundation that Tim then soared over, creating the vocal line-lyrical content that fit perfectly with and extended Gary's initial creative brilliance into a stratospheric zone, the result surely and startlingly transformed into much more than the sum of the two parts.

In the end there was betrayal. Lucas tells it all in a gripping prose chronology that jumps off the pages at you until you cannot stop reading.

And maybe it is the all-too-familiar story of stardom and self-destruction, insightful music brilliance and naive self-delusion, all teaming up to set the tail of the Jeff Buckley comet shooting rapidly and vertically to the heavens only to sputter and do an equally sure decent into nothingness. But it is told with such vivid life as the details unwind unerringly to the heartbreaking denouement, it is no simple, documented story. It does end up having the quality of a legend out of time, though not one the record execs envisioned, surely.

Lucas as he himself implies is someone who feels compelled to built up the truth of the experience in exhilarating and then harrowing detail. And in so doing he creates a hell of a book.

It is a book one does not forget quickly, if at all. You get a planet full of insights on Gary, on Jeff, on the blinding ecstasy of their momentous collaboration and then on the forces that pulled it apart and ultimately led to Jeff's demise. You see the horror of what the music business can be along with the extraordinary highs of musical excellence the two were able to reach, each bringing to the table a special frisson that in combination was otherworldly, exceptional, a model of what such things can be when everything is right.

Brilliant. Moving. A must-read.

Tail Dragger, Stop Lyin'

Tail Dragger (aka James Yancy Jones) is one SINGER. He has that Howlin' Wolf sort of gruff soul and you can hear it to good advantage on this, his very first album Stop Lyin' (Delmark 828), recorded in 1982. Only two songs were originally released from it (on a 45 and then an anthology), so this is the first time the full album has been available.

He belts out some very solid Chicago blues with an excellent band. As a bonus he reminisces for a few minutes about his early Chicago days at the end of the album. It's very funny-real and informative about what things were like for him and the crew he ran with.

It's the real deal, the real blues, done with lots of soul and fire! Oh yeah, it IS.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Larry Corban, The Circle Starts Here

Guitarist Larry Corban embodies and carries forward the jazz guitar legacy we have inherited from some of the masters of the later fifties-early sixties. I mean Wes, Burrell, Kessel. . . all of the heavily swinging players you can think of get an extension in the playing of Larry Corbin on the nicely turned album The Circle Starts Here (Nabroc Records 001).

This is guitar-bass-drums trio finessing and fineness all the way through. Larry teams with the always-on bassist Harvie S and a swinging Steve Williams on the drums.

It's a nice set of 14 originals and standards. Larry has some excellent chordal-soloing ideas and rapid single-line prowess. He puts it all to good use here. What's especially encouraging and pleasurable about the CD is how Larry and company find a way to evoke the tradition without merely dishing it back to us as it has been handed down. They find a way to make it new. If you are a jazz guitar appreciator this will make you smile.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lex Bronkowitz Orchestra, Strictly Gravy, the Music of Frank Zappa

For those that follow these things, there have been a fair number of outfits devoted at least in part to the music of departed master Frank Zappa. Zappa Plays Zappa is perhaps the best known, headed by Frank's son Dweezil. I've listened to most of them, having a love for the music that goes back to my adolescence, when I purchased a copy of Freak Out at Sears right as it first came out. (The cashier actually asked me, "You sure you want this?!" I said "Yes!" even though I had no idea what it was going to be. The cover did look pretty scary, but I liked that. Turns out I was in for some challenging music. The Mothers/Zappa opened up a universe of things for me over the years that started at that moment in 1966.)

One of the most interesting and successful work in this realm comes from the Lex Bronkowitz Orchestra, specifically on their recent album Strictly Gravy (nl fzio CD). What's really good about this outfit and this set? They play a few that have gotten plenty of attention, "Big Swifty" and "Mr. Green Genes," for example. But then they tackle some that have not been often heard, like "Uncle Remus," "Andy" and "rdnzl." And there are medley combinations (something Zappa himself favored in live settings) that work quite well.

The arrangements are by Lex. And they follow best practices, to my mind. They freshen up the sound and adapt it to the group at hand (Lex on guitar, Katharina Debus on vocals, plus mallets, drums, bass, and a guest horn section of sax, trombone and trumpet). They do justice to the music by staying very close to the spirit of Zappa's musical thinking, yet extend that for today.

Lex plays guitar very nicely, and can and does solo in a post-Zappa mode, as effectively as anyone playing today. He does something with the irregularity of phrasing and that soulful melodicism, both Zappa guitar hallmarks, and he even gets a Zappa-esque sound from his guitar. Yet it too is an extension with a creative, original component that is a joy to hear.

Finally, the entire band is very good. Everybody can play, Katharina has soul and finese. She makes all she sings seem right, but also seem right for HER.

This one clocks in at 36 minutes. Surely no second is wasted time. In fact this is one of the most invigorating and satisfying Zappa tributes I've heard. It stands on its own as excellent music in its own right. Now that's very cool!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Michael Moss, Billy Stein, Intervals

When something clicks in open-ended duo improvisations, and you've been around a while and heard many such pairings, well, you just KNOW it. That's the case with the duo tandem of reedman Michael Moss and electric guitarist Billy Stein on their CD Intervals (4th Stream-ERG Publishing 2013).

They get on the express train to hipsville from the start and you are in for a ride as listener. Billy Stein has an excellent sense of how to expand the tonality via some excellent chordal sequences and chord-line comping; his solo time is well spent working along those lines as well. He sets things up for Michael Moss to sound out adventurous, soulful free-wailing lines. And Michael sounds terrific, inspired. There are some loose compositional frameworks from time to time that work well and there are inventive segments of pure improvisation.

Either way the two create impressive, impassioned music together. Michael turns in beautiful solos on tenor, clarinet, flute, bass clarinet, and even the shofar horn. Each change of instrument inspires Billy to complement with another way into the freedom and the interest level never flags.

So I would certainly recommend you get this one. It's freedom at its finest!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Aaron Lebos, Reality

Aaron Lebos comes out of the new fusion explosion with both a guitar style and instrumental writing not unoriginal. That is the case with the album I was sent recently, called Reality (self-released). It's Aaron with a quartet that includes Eric England on electric bass, Jim Gasior on keys, and Rodolfo Zuniga on drums. Jim proves an able second soloist and the band has a good rhythmic feel throughout.

Aaron's guitar-centered compositions and tasteful solo style carry the day in the end. There is the slightest hint of an Alan Holdsworth sort of feeling in his playing but really not all the much, just in the way he sustains notes sometimes and the bends he sometimes gets on a note. Aaron comes through very much as his own player ultimately.

It's a bracingly fine set of numbers here. And you have to dig the bold hipness of the guitar electricity. Yeah!

Friday, October 11, 2013

I Know You Well Miss Clara, Chapter One

What's in a name? The band name I Know You Well Miss Clara must have meaning to the band members. And possibly Miss Clara. But in the end a name is a name and what counts is the music. In the case of I Know You Well Miss Clara and their inaugural Chapter One (MoonJune 057), the music says it all. This is a crack fusion-prog outfit out of Indonesia. It's a quartet with Reza Ryan wizardizing the guitar, Adi Wijaya on keys, Enriko Gultom on bass, and Alfiah Akbar on drums.

The songs, instrumental in form, written by Ryan with a few co-written with Wijaya and one by all the above and Gultom, have tensile strength and plenty of substance and power. They are not at all in a fusion cliche mode, which is a delight.

There are plenty of exploratory moments where keys, bass and guitar set up interesting moods. And then there are the sections when the band cranks it. Reza Ryan is a heck of a guitarist and he has technique in abundance but also his own ideas about line-weaving. So he stands out. But the whole band, here with their first album, has a pretty fully formed identity already too. And I suppose part of that is the rich musical culture of Indonesia but mostly I think it's because they've found a way and a direction of their own.

Listening to this album, given all the above, is a total gas! This is very together music. Do not pass this one by if you want to hear something new that both thinks and rocks!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dump, I Can Hear Music, Reissue

Dump is the alter-ego solo identity of James McNew of Yo La Tengo. His first album, from 1993, is a very long set of indie punkster-prankster DIY covers, originals and general mayhem. It has been reissued recently as a deluxe two-CD or three-LP set on Morr Music (MORR 114). I Can Hear Music strikes a kind of nerve with totally unpretentious festerings, psych garage to simple guitar and vocal posturings. And everything goes here, which you can grab only if you listen to the whole set a few times.

Who would expect Johnny Cash, old pop-rock cronie singles, and some catchy alt things to mesh together in ways that extend into what now is a many-years-later future and still sound authentic? It's not that such things are a big surprise, it IS what some music should be able to do. It does it not via extraordinary musicianship or vocal prowess. It does so by honestly making garage communications out of it all.

I am digging this. Almost in spite of my current oh-so-knowing and oh-so-showing self!

Marc Edwards & Slipstream Time Travel, Planet X Just Blew Up!

Today, as promised a few days ago, we take a look at the second part of Marc Edwards's virtual double-album release. This one is with his Slipstream Time Travel ensemble, a slightly larger group than the three guitars and drums quartet Sonos Gravis, the ensemble responsible for the other part of this double-dip into a cosmic ice cream multi-electric flavoring. This second foray is humorously titled Planet X Just Blew Up! (APCD-R4A/Dog and Panda 7).

For this outing we once again have Ernest Anderson III and Takuma Kanaiwa on very electric guitars, joined this time by Tor Snyder. Then there is Gene Janas on bass and Lawry Zilmrah on "bicycle wheel electronics." Of course Marc is on drums throughout and wrote the compositions that launch the band into space.

The guitars and bass open the set with an atmospheric, expanded free-flowing electricity on "Dark Space." All hell, so to speak, breaks loose on the title cut, with Marc charging forward with hugely kinetic energetic barrages, the full band giving you psychedelic free jazz-rock density and intensity. The guitars get a furious head of steam that Marc pushes forward with an insistence that especially works with his all-over sense of sound and full-out virtuosity. This is psycho-bashing at its finest.

For the finale we have "Suspended Animation," a Latin-Afro-out groove that hits on all cylinders with rhythmic heat and some very fine guitar work.

Marc has been experimenting for a number of years around the city in an electric free rock context. It all comes to an exhilarating, bracing fruition on these two new albums. If you had to choose, Planet X is probably the one to get. But why choose? They are both parts of a whole and make sense against each other. So grab them both for the maximum impact. Heavy business!