Friday, January 31, 2014

Howard Alden / Andy Brown Quartet, Heavy Artillery

There are quite a few guitar-slingers playing jazz out there these days, if the number of recordings I get every month is any indication. Many look back to a very golden tradition of the '50s and '60s especially, when there seemed to be so many great players recording and playing the clubs. That Jim Hall has passed means there are even fewer legends from that time still active, and I was very sad to hear about it.

But even so we have some great plectrists still, folks who can keep the excitement and immediacy going in "classic" ways. Howard Alden and Andy Brown are two of them. They join forces in a quartet where the picking is other-worldly and the swinging hard.The Howard Alden / Andy Brown Quartet's new album Heavy Artillery (Delmark 5008) is aptly named. They are fired up with an able rhythm section of Joe Policastro on bass and Bob Rummage on drums, and it's lines, lines, lines of fire that in this case you DO want to get in the way of.

They tackle standards of the songbook and jazz variety but the main idea is to jam out, interchanging, exchanging and extemporizing musical chariots of fire to keep you moving along with them.

It's one of those sessions where the pump is primed and the ice has melted. With a winter like this one, that's exactly what we need!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bryan and the Haggards, Merles Just Want to Have Fun, with Eugene Chadbourne

The new one by Bryan and the Haggards is a 100% hoot. Merles Just Want to Have Fun (Northern Spy 046) joins the "band" with Eugene Chadbourne on vocals and acoustic strings. If they were totally off the wall before, well, the wall just got even further away.

If you don't know it's a prime young group of cutting-edge jazzmen taking the music of good ole boy Merle Haggard and playing havoc with it. Bryan Murray takes on some of the vocals and plays various instruments, most notably his tenor; Jon Irabagon plays soprano, tenor, c-melody and bass clarinet; Jon Lundbom is on the electric guitar but also some banjo, Moppa Elliot takes the bass, and Danny Fischer plays the drums.

Underneath it all they truly have learned the songs, but then they work through some primo wacky trips that are both very out and supremely funny. The saxes and guitar work alone is totally bonkers. Yakety-insane! As I play this one I can't help but laughing. It's like Spike Jones meets Albert Ayler.

If you are not a redneck (or maybe even if you are) this is gonna tickle your being. In these hard times it's maybe even funnier because the promise of the pickup truck and boots philosophy seems farther away than ever from everyday reality, even if there are still plenty of turd kickers out there. But hey, this is so crazy that even those cats may see the humor?

You want to laugh? This one does it!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rich Rosenthal, Falling Up

Rich Rosenthal's album Falling Up (MSK 301) has real bite to it but also enough bark to warn you to pay attention. It's in a free-ish jazz zone without necessarily getting completely into the fire music aspect. The electricity and energy of Rosenthal's guitar has enough jolt that there is a near-rock edge, the compositions are well thought-out, the solos are hip and the rhythm section cooks with an easy sort of lope or undaunted determination, depending.

All compositions are by Rich save for Steve Lacy's "No Baby" and Jimmy Lyons' "Wee Sneezawee" (both good choices, underperformed in the repertoire). Rich is joined by the "talent-deserving-wider-recognition" Joe Giardullo on soprano. Then there's Craig Nixon on upright bass and Matt Crane at the drums.

Rich solos with an outside edge, sometimes with a kind of deliberation that works well and is a little rare in this kind of guitar style; at other points he swings for the musical fences and connects. He picks some hip chord voicings and can wind a phrase in ways that take it to the edge and keep your attention. Joe is someone to hear too, as always, and sounds well.

It's a disk that goes from station-to-station without flagging. It's a very nice guitar effort and it's equally cool on the group togetherness end.

Listen in, listen on...

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bob DeVos, Shadow Box

Bob DeVos gets everything in gear for his fifth album as a leader. He put together some grooving originals and a couple by others you don't hear covered much (Wes's "Twisted Blues", Mel Torme's "Born to Be Blue") then gathered some hiply swinging cats and let the "tapes" roll.

Shadow Box (American Showplace 5922) is all that. Bob finds the right mix of heat and feel with Dan Kostelnik on the B-3 organ, Steve Johns on drums, and, for half the program, Ralph Bowen on tenor sax.

It's straight ahead hard bop today with the groove and the changes in mind. Bob solos excellently, fluidly, and very coherently with some fine strings of note-ing and groovy chords. Kostelnik counters him with some very classic bopping organ and lines that are not cribbed from Jimmy Smith records. Bowen swings and blows well. And Johns is the right drummer.

DeVos is a hell of a nice guitarist. Just listen to this and you'll hear it.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mark Lettieri, Futurefun

Mark Lettieri? Good guitarist. Electric. Plays a prog sort of jazz-rock on his new album Futurefun (self-released). He's got some nice rythmic sensibilities and can come out with rapid-fire lines that end in a bluesy-rock territory but can get there in various ways, and he doesn't quite sound like anybody else.

It's a trio-quartet setting and a platform for Lettieri's good sense and interesting written launching pads. It's beyond cliche and it shows you what he's got, which is some chops but a musical mind that works in ways that make the music worth hearing. It's not technically astute fireworks in the end. It's music.

Here's a cat that's got something really nice going!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Adam Lane Trio, Absolute Horizon

Adam Lane has in the last several decades thrived as one of the very brightest stars on acoustic bass, a jazz composer-arranger of unique personality and poise, and a band leader of the highest rank.

A new CD of him in a bare-bones trio setting doing completely improvised music, Absolute Horizon (No Business NBCD 61), gives us a slightly different, but none the less welcome perspective. Here we have three excellent players--Adam, Darius Jones on alto sax and Vijay Anderson on drums--putting aside arranged compositions and going straight at it.

And what you might expect is what you get--a totally free-wheeling ride through the fertile, musically inventive collective imaginations of a trio of master avant jazzmen.

It all clicks. There are seven contrasting pieces with a generous playing time so you can imbibe a good long set of it all.

There is of course lots of Adam Lane's bass playing to dig here, arco or pizz, ensemble and solo. But then Darius and Vijay are primed and there are fully "actionable" sequences to get you off your mental seat and charge straight on through the music. ("Actionable" comes out of me almost involuntarily. It's a word I keep coming across in the many job descriptions I go through online every day in search of a JOB, you'll understand? It means that it invites or impells you to do something, in this case listen and dig.)

Some of this is flat-out, killer energy freedom, some of it is in a finessed, interactively subtle mood, some of it swings like hell, in time. It all swings in a wide sense, in or out of time. It shows you how some of the best can just let go and get a radically varied program of exciting new improvisations that showcase each as individuals yet get all kinds of group sounds and dynamics going. In fact this is something an avant jazz novice should hear if he or she needs to understand the importance of collective invention, of listening and proceeding in a totally free small group setting.

I have a couple more Adam Lane disks coming, so stay tuned. Meanwhile get a hold of this one!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

George Cotsirilos Trio, Variations

In the zone of mainstream, there are a fair number of guitar voices out there. I get quite a few to audition and I am glad for that. But I cannot cover all of them, of course. Today's guitarist belongs here because his chordal sense is very fine. He also writes some good vehicles for his trio. This is the George Cotsirilos Trio's third release, Variations (OA2 22104).

It features George and the bass-drum team of Robb Fisher and Ron Marabuto, good players for this intimate session, which keeps the swinging going throughout.

The Cotsirilos single-line solo way is not entirely the notes you might expect. He seems more confident in the chordal solo mode but either way he is up to something good, not something simply reworked from the classic past. So listen and hear another way to do it all.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Billy Sea, Global Americana, Billy Cardine

Master of the dobro slide guitar Billy Cardine may not be known to you but he should be. I've covered two of his disks here and now a third, in a slightly different stylistic universe than the other two. His group the Billy Sea is Cardine with the very nice rhythm team of River Guerguerian on drums and percussion, and Jake Wolfe on electric bass in a program of electro-acoustic prog-fuse-jazz-rock that's notable for an organic rootsiness and some great guitar. And by the way, Jake can really play the electric bass, solo and otherwise. He does. Nice drumming here, too.

They have some Indian roots from time-to-time which they combine with a folksy demeanor (e.g., "With A High Hope") and otherwise run a full gamut of stylistic fusions with originals by all concerned, five by Cardine.

All this on their CD Global Americana (self-released), which however ironic really does fit what they are doing.

It's masterful and engaging music, all instrumental with the exception of "Stars in Still Water", a pleasing song with vocals by Mary Lucey.

All I can say is--you miss this one at your own peril. He should be heard by anyone who ever contemplated picking up a dobro or just loves to hear one well played.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dusan Jevtovic, Am I Walking Wrong?

I revel in the new. . . new discoveries, new sounds, new people. So when somebody new to me turns out to be really good, I am happy. That is so with Serbian-Barcelonian electric guitar wizard Dusan Jevtovic. You can depend upon MoonJune to come up with these sorts of things, and they do so again. Dusan's album Am I Walking Wrong? (MoonJune 058) is something I gravitate towards--and it has something to do with my love of Terje Rypdal's guitar styling. Not that Dusan is channeling Rypdal so much as he works in an advanced world of expanded harmonies and dramatic psychedelic declamations similar to the Rypdalian way.

Jevtovic is in a power trio setting that completely suits what he has to say. Bernat Hernandez on electric bass and Marko Djordjevic on drums have real virtuoso fire that complements Dusan's compositions and improvisatory excursions in the best sort of way.

This is ultra-progressive jazz-rock-fusion with the sort of substance and teeth that makes the listening get better and better as your hear the disk more and more. I listen again as I write this and it continues to grow in my ears, which to me is a sign that everything is ultra-well with the music.

Prog metal guitar acolytes and fans will find that this album is manna. I kid you not.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fred Fried and Core, Core Bacharach

I've covered quite a few Fred Fried albums here and in Cadence over the years. And today I am back with another one. Another good one.

Core Bacharach (Ballet Tree) is Fred's Core Trio running through some Burt Bacharach gems. Fred has good company, tight and articulate, in Michael Lavoie, bass, and Miki Matsuki, drums. They have plenty to do with the musical success of Core. But of course it is Fred Fried and his eight-string nylon acoustic that makes it all magical.

Fred comes through with those beautiful voicings and really artful rubato renditions of the familiar melodies--and his soloing makes you want to hear more. Thankfully there are 65 minutes of music on this disk so you get a goodly portion.

Maestro Fried has his own beautiful touch and articulation. He is certainly one of the masters of the nylon string these days.

This may be his very best. In any event you'll want to hear it, and I am confident that it will bring you much pleasure.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tom Kennedy, Just Play!

There are times, if you are like me, when you enjoy kicking back, forgetting for a moment what the "latest" new thing is, what is on the cutting-edge and just dig on some very grooving music. In the hard bop realm that is what you get on bassist Tom Kennedy's Just Play! (Capri 74122-2),

It's Kennedy walking and soloing with real force and soul, joined together with some swinging companions who can let loose and do. It's Tom with a formidable cast of Dave Weckl on drums, Renee Rosnes, piano, George Garzone on tenor, Mike Stern on guitar, Tim Hagens, trumpet, Lee Ritenour, guitar, John Allred, trombone, and Steve Wirts on tenor. You'll no doubt recognize most if not all of these names if you are into the contemporary jazz scene.

What this is about is one Mike Stern original and otherwise jazz classics done with lots of chutzpah. "Airegin", "In A Sentimental Mood", "In Your Own Sweet Way", things that still sound great when you play them well and then the solos kick off! When the big gathering of horns go at it the arrangements for them are right.

In short this is one you put on and dig into. It's primo hard-bopping done with things that came after taken in with the air. That's what the mainstream of today, if it has that thing, is all about.

So get this and you'll get right in there.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Luis Lopes Humanization 4tet, Live in Madison

If you want to wake yourself up, you'd do well to check out the recent album by the Luis Lopes Humanization Quartet, Live in Madison (Ayler 134). It's a very hot quartet, in some ways an offshoot of Dennis Gonzalez's Yells at Eels band (more on that later this week). This quartet takes no prisoners, in that it is blazing a path of fire where it will and you get into it because you want some of that heat in your world, or that's what I am feeling anyway.

The mix of players is excellent. Two Portuguese heavies and the Gonzalez brothers from down Texas way. Luis Lopes leads the band and brings in three abstract-concrete compositions. He shows you what he's made of on electric guitar--fire and dry ice, blazing electric outness, inferno-maelstroms of sound.

His front-line partner is the always hot Rodrigo Amado on tenor (and one composition)--who sounds brilliant as he always seems to, getting that great big tenor sound and putting something on every note he plays. Like a master spitball pitcher, he starts in one place and then there is action you cannot predict but it ends in another not-always-expected end point. The combination of Rodrigo and Luis is as potent as any one-two punch around and they show why very convincingly here.

Then there are the Gonzalez brothers, sons of Dennis Gonzalez and becoming one of the hippest and most capable rhythm teams around today. Aaron is the world class bassist that gets the ostinatos into cruising mode with a big fat sound, can walk and solo with real authority and does here. He also contributes one of the compositions. Stefan combines hard-hitting strength with great chops for a busy swinging sound perfect to launch this quartet into outer space.

This is all about the four together in smoking space-mode. But it is also about the very together advanced playing of each individually. All of them are at the top as players with what is going on in advanced jazz with a rock edge. In tandem they are unbeatable.

In any way you care to look at this one, it's a big winner. It has the torque of rock, the unpredictability of outness and some really great improvisations and compositional launching points.

Get this!

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's A Beautiful Day, Live at the Fillmore '68

Anyone who followed rock back in the later sixties with any seriousness or for that matter anyone younger who has a sense of the history knows something about the Frisco band It's A Beautiful Day, I'll imagine. "White Bird" was their most celebrated number and it was played a great deal on the "alternative" FM rock stations then. But there was more to them than that song, of course.

They were one of the first bands to replace electric guitar solos with those of the electric violin, of David LaFlamme, who also happened to be leader, songwriter and lead vocalist for the band. I am trying to think who if anybody had an electric violinist earlier? I believe they predate the Mothers with Harris and later Ponty, the Flock with Goodman, the later Animals, Seatrain, who else? The point is that it was a distinguishing factor with the band and LaFlamme set the pace.

They had two albums on Columbia then faded. But in the interim they made some solid psychedelic period rock music. There's a new unissued recording out, Live at the Fillmore '68 (Classical Music Vault 0220), and it is just that.

The sound quality is very good, the band is charged up, they do their repertoire of the time, originals of note, much of it ending up on the first album (White Bird), some on the second (Marrying Maiden) and a few never recorded in the studio ever, at least in terms of those releases.

What's especially nice is the band has a hard hitting live sound that is perfectly captured, and they venture into expanded jams and contrasting moments pretty often compared to the studio sides. The band is tight and spacy as needed, Patti Santos is there on her Slick-esque vocals in tandem with David, there are the expected violin niceties and at least to me it wears well.

It comes with a bonus DVD disk that catches up with David and the band in later years, the struggle to keep going in changing times, footage of the band in recent years and dialog by LaFlamme about it all. It will likely appeal mostly to confirmed fans of the era and the band and it's certainly nice to see.

If you dug the band then, you'll dig this. It all has immediacy that will appeal to anyone with sympathies to a time that was indeed seminal for rock. There were an awful lot of great bands coming up then. It's A Beautiful Day was one of them.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Harrison Bankhead Quartet, Velvet Blue

When it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty, chances are you'll hear it coming out of Chicago (as well as other places of course). Chicago has been synonymous with great jazz and blues for as long as you can say such a thing of anyplace. King Oliver came up North way back but the foundations were no doubt laid for him and it's been going great ever since. Is it those cold winters, the hot summers? I don't know but it's Chicago-style cold all over the country right now and the CD on my machine helps me through the local version. Of course when I lived in Chicago for a while I understood. I felt the music like I felt the seasons there, more so than when you aren't THERE, man. And I carried that back with me to NY Metro. Once it's in you, it doesn't leave and you don't want it to.

So today we get some Velvet Lounge style avant soul jazz from cats who have been there, are there, will be there. It's bassist Harrison Bankhead and his quartet on a fine disk rightly titled Velvet Blue (Engine 2013). Harrison is a bassist (upright) who has strength, soul, chops and an ear to take it anywhere. His band is one you'd be glad to catch live because it has presence, it does it and it feels it moment by moment.

We are talking about the under-appreciated killer reedman Ed Wilkerson, here on tenor, clarinet, alto clarinet and a little didgeridoo and harmonica. Another reedman who is hot and needs to be better known is on hand too, Mars Williams, on alto, tenor, soprano and kalimba. The fire-stoking drummer who kicks them ahead is Avreeayl Ra and he puts the boilers under everybody to get that steam cranking.

The two-reed team work together very nicely. Each has his sound so you can follow the two weaving in and out with each other and with the rhythm, with Harrison and Avreeayl, switching off instruments. Somebody plays a piano at one point, and it sounds good in a harmonic tremor of Alice then McCoy-Alice block chords sort of way but not exactly. I am thinking it's Harrison? Breaks it up nicely.

It's a set that goes in plenty of directions and gives you dramatic contrasts. And in the end, yeah, you want to go hop a freighter to Chi-town or a bus or whatever and go inside that old Velvet Lounge and while away the night with the sounds. It's better than a Yule log because it doesn't just sit there and crackle-fizzle. It does what you need it to do to heat your inner-space! It is on fire but it's the good kind of fire.

Barring that trip the next best thing is catching this disk. It's real-deal Chicago freedom in concentrated expression, new jazz of high level cats. Many stars, many stars. This will warm you up! Grab a copy.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Totem>, Voices of Grain, Blancarte, Drury, Eisenbeil

I've been following and listening eagerly to the evolution of guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, more or less since I first started writing for Cadence (and then left there to do my own music blogs). I've reviewed a good number of things, dates he led, etc., (type his name in the search box at top for those reviews). I must say that on the new Totem> album he has taken a giant leap forward.

The album is Voices of Grain (New Atlantis 007).

This is a three-way effort that achieves liftoff by the extraordinary interaction of the trio playing here--Bruce on electric guitar, Tom Blancarte on acoustic bass, Andrew Drury on drums. They put themselves in very all-encompassing musical hotspots by both listening and going in three separate yet synchronous directions. Andrew Drury is the ideal, idea drummer for this date. He listens but he also contributes tumbling energy music figures that would sound great even if it were just him. He has the ears, imagination and executional ability to make all the POP.

Then Tom Blancarte on bass--he is a dynamo here. All over the place with real intensity, imagination, too, and a sense of tone that combines excellently with Bruce's guitar wizardry.

So yes, Mr. Eisenbeil is right there with the other two. His playing has grown to the point where he may be out in sound color like Derek Bailey, percussive like Sonny Sharrock, dissonant and extra-tonal like both, but there is a memorability to what he plays, an out melodic sense that rings out yes, but with an overall sound-sense that combines with musical content for an approach that's original and very captivating.

They are free flowing throughout, sometimes edging into almost-heavy-rock but then taking it out in ways that perhaps the Fillmore crowd would have had to adjust to. Totem> goes to places that words do not cover very well. Because it's about the sound, not the words. But the places they visit are out in interesting ways and unusual enough to state categorically that here we have a trio of real originality.

Three masters take it out with kinetic electricity and power...and the results are vital. Take a leap and listen to this one! It will put you elsewhere.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Toronzo Cannon, John the Conquer Root

Anybody familiar with the history of blues and rock knows that somewhere towards the late sixties the sound of the lead guitar in rock expanded and electrified greatly, thanks to artists like Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton. Jimmy Page and of course Jimi Hendrix. Each one of these artists had strong blues roots to their playing and each had listened carefully to the Afro-American urban blues styles of guitarists like BB King and Buddy Guy among others, and they took it forward from there.

Well now of course somebody like Buddy Guy was in many ways right there himself. I remember hearing him open for the Mothers of Invention in 1967 at the Central Park summer festival and I felt the convergence.

Toronzo Cannon, a living, breathing, very much on top of it bluesman on the Chicago scene brings us some of that very hip electricity on his second album, John the Conquer Root (Delmark 831). It's Toronzo as very together guitarist, soulful vocalist and blues songwriter with a good poppin' band and a bunch of hot tunes.

When he wants to crank it--the solos have that classic edge that Albert King or BB or Eric could conjure back in the classic days--or of course Buddy Guy. And some of the other tunes have a soul feel or "just" classic Chicago blues style, as if that isn't enough? Well it is much enough!

This is one hot disk. Dig in by all means.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Frank Potenza, For Joe

I find a talented straight-ahead jazz guitarist, if he is on the mark that day, to be very compelling. It's not just that I cannot play like that no matter how hard I try. It's a matter of excellent musicianship, which I appreciate on any level whenever I hear it. The guitar and the way it is traditionally tuned lays out so differently than a piano that a good sense of the chording-comping kind of soloing gives guitarists a set of difficulties that are very unique because of course much more than getting the ear for it. Not in the least bit intending to denigrate the piano (it is no easier to play well, it just has different challenges), but getting a huge facility in the comping zone is almost counter-intuitive on the guitar, at least at first.

And when I think of the harmonic sophistication of master guitarists in this aspect, I inevitably think of Joe Pass, along with a very few others. Joe Pass was an ace at this!

Frank Potenza was a Pass student and, when you listen to the album at hand, you can tell he was one who absorbed all that Joe had to offer. It is fully appropriate that Frank do a Pass tribute album (you'll know when you hear it). For Joe (Capri 74127-2) is the result and it will blow you away if you are into this sort of thing like I am.

So we have a perfectly enthralling set at hand here. Frank solos over a rhythm team that includes John Pisano on second guitar, Jim Hughart on acoustic bass and Colin Bailey at the drums. They are a very groovy, swinging bunch and they make Frank sound all the better, not to mention that John is no slouch himself on guitar. This was exact same rhythm team Joe Pass used on his 1964 tribute to Django side, so it makes sense on many levels.

It's all about Frank here, though, and he comes through with single-line, chordal arpeggiated and line-chord solos that make you want to hear more.

This is an album any serious guitarist will dig--and anyone into the jazz zone for that matter.

Frank Potenza!