Friday, February 28, 2014

Theo Ceccaldi Trio + 1, Can You Smile?

My old boss had a sign on his desk that I do not forget. "Be brief," It read. "Be brilliant. And be gone." Now those were wise words from where he sat. He had no time to waste. And the three maxims still offer food for thought. It isn't easy. The "be gone" part notwithstanding.

With the music of Can You Smile? (Ayler 136) it is a challenge. Because the music is different. Theo Ceccaldi is the leader on this date. He plays violin in interesting, free and schooled ways. Also alto. The ever-wondrous Joelle Leandre is on contrabass and vocals, and she as always makes you ponder because she is always fresh and yes, very much schooled on the bass. Guillaume Aknine plays guitar, out guitar, electric and exploring. Then Valentin Ceccaldi is on cello. Sounds good.

What this is in essence is, what, a very adventuresome, free-wheeling sort of string quartet with everybody pulling plenty of weight. It's about texture as much as it is about line-creation. The group gets a sound that nobody else does that comes to mind. There's new music components and free new-thing components, and they mix in very nice ways. There is counterpoint, improvised, some composed lines that work right, some of that very singular Joelle scat embedded in out string improvs, strident outbursts and quiet musings, densities of flurry, fury and flying riffdoms followed by contrasts expected or no, electric guitar thrashing with sophisticated string responses, quartet movements that sound concerted, pizz and bowed emanations that startle or amaze....

That is a description of what you will hear. What it doesn't say to you is how fresh this album sounds. For that you need to zero your ears in with a copy of it! I thank you for reading what might not be brilliant but is at least pretty brief. Now I'll be gone! For today...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dom Minasi & Hans Tammen, Alluvium

Dom Minasi you know, if you read this blog, anyway. Hans Tammen you may not. Both play guitar and can and do go into zones of adventure and freedom. The two met as a part of an eight-guitar ensemble, found that they had compatible conceptions musically, and made a point to get together as a duo and record. The result is this album, Alluvium (straw2gold pictures).

It has a focus on sound and grit. There are almost punk-ish, post-Beefheartian moments on this set of improvisations. Hans initially looked to Sonny Sharrock and Pete Cosey as influences. Some of that is in there in his playing, but much more of his own besides. Dom has influences in roots harmomelodism from Johnny Smith on, but then has taken things out in his very own ways, which can vary as widely as you could imagine, from pulsating, harmonically pinned fluorescence to sound-sculpting.

This is an album that shows a rare, vibrant species of chemistry between two guitarists. They travel the spaceways and they plant their feet firmly on earth as well, sometimes in a heartbeat.

This is what open improvisation is about. Between two truly inventive artists. No preconceptions except to live in the spontaneous creative moments of now! The listener must anticipate the unknown. Like going on those "mystery rides" my dad sometimes sprung on us kids when I was young. Where? You find out as you go. That's the excitement that this music puts forward. You don't ask, "when are we going to get there?" Because "there" starts, continues and ends with the duration of this set. Open up!


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tess Parks, Blood Hot

What makes garage rock into art? When it's not quite the deadly dumb progressions on guitar, but slightly off kilter. When the band gets very together in what they do, even if at base it's a matter of simplicity. And the vocals must have something special. Tess Parks and band on her album Blood Hot (359 Music 359CD6) do that kind of garage art.

What we have is some supremely laconic, not-quite-snarky but very attitudinal vocals from Ms. Parks, a hard-edged guitar-bass-drums quartet that hits psychedelic power chords and lets a simple effective lead guitar voice (or two) come though now and then.

Now that may sound ordinary, and it is. But the power of it all and Ms. Park's delivery put this one in the zone where you say, "Yeah, that works!"

There is still plenty to do in the garage rock zone. Tess Parks gives us something to remind us that roots can be rejuvenating. is it the guitar and vocals fountain of youth? No. But close.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas, Other World

It makes perfect sense that Peter Hammill and Gary Lucas would collaborate together on a project. Both are purveyors of the rock art song, Gary especially with Jeff Buckley in that day but after that too; Peter with Van der Graaf Generator. They both have an affinity with spacy, psychedelically open worlds also--Peter in the sound Van der Graf gets at times and Gary as a one-man master of pedals and space with his Strat and array.

So they just released the (first?) fruits of their efforts and I am immersed in its other-earthly world with a good deal of pleasure.

Not surprisingly it is called Other World (Esoteric Antenna). It is a collection of rather riveting, quirky song-soundscapes created with nothing but Peter's vocals and Gary and Peter's guitars. Another world opens up that simultaneously points forward to new frontiers of space music as it recaps where both have been. To my mind music is like cinema. Genres are constants that transcend time. So space music is to our world as is sci-fi or horror films. No genre is exhausted when our prime creative artists put their mind to working within it. And so here.

There's a bit of the rootsy Gary, a corking good deal of the cosmic Gary and Peter, and the kind of intelligent peculiarity of Peter's songs combined with the structural hipness of Gary's song-melding, all wrapped up into a sequence of sounds that gets better every time you hear it. It is memorable in ways you might find unexpected, unless you know their previous music well. The scapes are some of the most symphonic ever, the songs some of the most quirky.

It's not time to go up to the attic and unpack the lava lamp. It's time to don that silver spacesuit and confront the future that has arrived.

The music needs genuine creative acuity to move forward. Peter and Gary have that in abundance here. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Kazhargan World, Post Fiction

The internationally diverse ensemble Kazhargan World comes together with a new one that shows the band evolving and growing. Post Fiction (Dewey-Records LC24579), the latest, combines a sort of middle-period Miles Davis feel with nice composition elements, some excellent individual and collective soloing and a loosely hip rhythm section that swings and rocks appealingly.

Cheryl Pyle recites some spacy poetry in her very own way and plays a warm and contemporary sounding flute--also in her very own way. Stanislav Zaslavsky writes a good deal of the material and plays piano with smarts and flair, sort of post Hancockian. Hans Peter Salentin plays trumpet with a sound that certainly owes something to Miles, especially on muted horn, but the notes are his and nicely done. Sean O'Bryan Smith is on electric bass. What is interesting with him is that he can articulate funk riffs but then sometimes improvise between and around them in ways that make him a part of the improvisatory action. Max Ridgway plays a bluesy, nicely laid out electric guitar. Laurent Planells has for this band the ideal combination of free looseness and funk togetherness, sometimes all at once.

I like this band especially when they collectively improvise. They know when to come in and when to drop out so that it works really well. The written lines are very nice to hear and extend the rock-funk nexus in good ways.

That puts it all together for you as far as what to expect. It's something many people will find accessible, I would think, but it has intelligence and soul enough that you find yourself liking it more the more you hear.

It's not super-electric and it's not super-eclectic. There is a terrific balance between torque and expressive soul-lyricism.

So hear it!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ayman Fanous and Jason Kao Hwang, Zilzal

Two sons of immigrants, from Egypt and China, respectively, in the world we live in today--each have dual cultural backgrounds to call upon, if everything is right. That is the case with violinist Jason Kao Hwang and guitarist-bouzoki player Ayman Fanous. There is the music of the homeland somewhere embedded in their musical minds and there is what they have invented themselves out of structural-improvisational forms they have absorbed here in the US.

You can hear that come across very clearly and brilliantly on their duo recording Zilzal (Innova 869). It's music with the freedom to explore tonalities and sound color. Each has his very own way. Neither sounds quite like anybody else.

The full set of improvisations take us to the world we are in now--one with a communications network and patterns of migration that continually enrich the culture we experience. But we do have to do a little looking for it. On the surface of pop culture there is some kind of homogeneity that can be found globally in one form or another. Some of that, even much of that can be vacuous, a white bread of bland product.

You get the opposite here. There is great freedom, technique harnessed to the ends of making a statement musically, and the sort of magic that results when all of that works, comes together.

This is experimentally open music. It is not a compendium of riffs and licks, far from it. Listening to it is to enter a kaleidoscope of modern expression, expression with rootedness in a new 3rd musical territory that is neither exactly modern in the a-cultural sense nor traditional in the constant need to affirm the previous.

There is some new conge-gating going on here, and it is rather exciting, I must say. Listen!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Adam Lane's Blue Spirit Band

Adam Lane isn't only a superb bassist. That should be enough. But he is also a leader of real strength. You get that today with his album Adam Lane's Blue Spirit Band (Cadence Jazz 1231) which was waxed in 2009 but released last year. The mood is elated, exuberent, and the repertoire is the roots, blues, spirituals, folk songs. That doesn't mean he's "gone traditional" any more than the Art Ensemble did on Message to Our Folks. It means that respect for the past combines with what playing cutting-edge jazz is to these artists.

When I first listened to this one and then put it in sequence for later listens and review, Roy Campbell was still with us and we had no idea, no warning that he was going to leave us. But he did, suddenly, shockingly, gone. But here he is on this record, blazing fire, sounding excellent, a trumpet at the top of today, now a memory. So RIP Roy Campbell. This is as good a place as any to hear his last flowering.

And then the rest of the band is at the top, too. Avram Fefer on tenor, volcanic and impassioned. Vijay Anderson turns in a very together performance on the drums, as you can count on. Adam plays bass like you know he can. And the arrangements turn these old hoary classics into the now of today.

"House of the Rising Sun"? Yeah, and "Peace Like A River", "Old Time Religion" and a bunch of others, done with all the heat and tensile strength of the music today. There's another release on CIMP I'll be covering shortly. But get this one; pay respects to Roy Campbell but do the same for all of these artists. Someday we'll all be gone and we need to appreciate the art while we--and they--are here. You'll be getting one hell of a nice recording too!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pixel, We Are All Small Pixels

On a morning of another blizzard outside and my computer giving me the fits with a severe need to defrag I play Pixel's album We Are All Small Pixels (Cuneiform Rune 372) (LP or CD) and I get stupidly happy. Good music does that. To hell with the blizzard.

So why is this good? They are from Oslo. But that's not why. They are a band that makes the phrase jazz-rock respectable because the songs singer and double bassist Ellen Andrea Wang writes for the band are really fetching and they rock. Drummer Jon Audun Baar, trumpeter Jonas Kilmork Vem√ły and saxophonist Harald Lassen give substance to the music and make what could be what is.

It's in a way as radical as Morphine (with that bari doing rock) in that they work with what they have and make something different. Ellen sounds great as vocalist and her bass makes you dig in. But the arrangements, the heat of an excellent drummer and those hip horns put this in gear.

This may be only their second album--but hey they sound really seasoned and hot as hell when they go to it. The songs are really something and Ellen delivers them! OK, get this one too. But only if you want. It's put a smile on my face all week. I don't smile all the time, either.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Greg Lewis, Organ Monk: American Standard

Greg Lewis, one of the very hippest jazz organists out there now. Organ Monk, his celebrated group gathered together to pay homage to Thelonious Monk not by imitation so much as by osmosis, by absorbing the essence of the master, doing the tunes & compositions he did in his performing life and making it new. That's what has been going on and it continues on Organ Monk: American Standard (self-released).

The idea is of course that Monk through his career played some standards along with his irreplaceable compositions. Greg Lewis has collated the best of them and set his band on re-doing them with hip arrangements and the same flare as they have given to Monk's music per se.

And guess what? It works. They kick up plenty of fuss and swing the hell of of the tunes. It's Greg on the B-3, of course, Ron Jackson on guitar, Riley Mullins on trumpet, Reggie Woods on tenor and Jeremy Bean Clemons on drums. Everybody can solo with bop and post-bop fire and they get it all smoking here.

Lulu is back in town! She's at a club digging Organ Monk. If you can't get to one to hear them then get this disk. Or do both. It's hitting that elated peak when everybody is on top of it all. Greg is Monk organist and more--and everybody does what a tribute should--not ape, cog-i-tate!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Jenks Miller, Spirit Signal

Well, it occurs to me on a Monday morning that there is probably nobody out there that likes precisely the same set of musics that I do. That's always going to be the case from individual-to-individual, but I do sometimes wonder what the people who like Bartok or Archie Shepp think of the things I throw your way on the guitar blogsite and vice-versa. I cover the various genres I do because I believe they are all key components of "new" "modern" music. And also my generation anyway tended to banish borders in their listens, some of us, and experienced anything and everything that was and is...."heavy, man"! We still do. Those who made it through and have all the sensory-motor and cognitive apparatuses in good working order. I always felt I was a part of a renaissance flowering of all kinds of excellent (and sometimes very new) musics in the '60s and early '70s, and ultimately it had nothing to do with drugs, not in any way that mattered. There was a confusion between being high and consciousness-raising then, and what that did was discredit what the new vision was about, enabled those against a change to roll back the clock further and further. All of that is far in the past, now, but the cultural residue remains and is an important part of our heritage. We press on...

So Jenks Miller is part of that. He's heavy (man). Seriously though his solo electric guitar album Spirit Signal gives you the sort of basement blow-out experiments my friends and I sometimes indulged in long ago, only it's better because Jenks has thought about the various neo-psychedelic realms he wants to cover and then sets about doing something interesting from segment-to-segment.

So there's some heavy duty sustained feedback, slide blues freedom, heavily distorted metal chords with some punky vocals, noodly raga rock blues metal, noise metal, things that remind you of where people started going when Hendrix cranked, when Zappa freaked out, and whatnot.

I like it. This guy plays ordinarily with Horseback (black metal?) and Mount Moriah (country-rock). This solo album is kind of a one-off hoot. But it reminds you of the sort of new joy in electricity that some of us experienced in our halcyon days. And so I do approve and I found it a fun and absorbing listen. This isn't about chops. It's electric music for a guitarist and his imagination. And for all that it succeeds.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Craig Yaremko Organ Trio, CYO3

Organ trios can come around these days in more than one flavor, so to speak. There are those that stay within the tradition well established in 1960 or so by Jimmy Smith and others. And then there are those that take the music into the present to varying degrees.

The Craig Yaremko Organ Trio do the latter on CY03 (OA2 22105). And they do it in ways that still keep with the hard bop tradition but reflect the post-scene as well. There are some jazz classics and a bunch of originals that hang together to make a cohesive statement.

So, who are these folks? Craig Yaremko heads the band, writes many of the compositions and plays soprano, alto, tenor, flute and alto flute. He's a modern bopper with a great sound and good lining. His tunes are within the forms but push them to the edges at times--like for example "Blue Fountain", a blues with some tone stretching head-lines.

Matt King is on organ. He manages to keep things soulful and yet pulls things more toward Larry Young and Charles Earland than Don Patterson. He also writes a few good tunes here. Jonathan Peretz has that swinging drum feel with plenty of kicks to boot the band forward.

And the potent Vic Juris guests on two cuts to excellent advantage.

CY03 marks the true arrival of a crack modern organ outfit. These guys are doing it!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dom Minasi and Michael Jefry Stevens, Angel's Dance

Electric guitarist Dom Minasi, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens...neither are improvising voices you can easily pigeonhole as this or that. They both are complete artists, not content to stay in one zone, not content to repeat themselves. They are musicians who evolve and grow at their own pace, who make records that say something others have not, who are motored onward by an inner compulsion, not what the flavor-of-the-month is supposed to be.

So when they make a recording together, it's a special thing just by nature of who they are. But then of course, there is the music, which is what it all means. Angel's Dance--Improvisations for Guitar and Piano (Nacht Records Download) gives a really good listen to what happens right now when the two get together and freely improvise. Now two years from now there might be something very different happening, and of course that is the beauty of these guys and the music.

There is much going on here. Some things are like clouds of sound, peaceful or turbulent, others take on more of a pulse. All explore the edges of possibility in any music neighborhood they choose to dwell. There are tonal-centered or even key-centered moments and there are moments where that stretches through the spontaneous reactions of each other to each other and they work in their own tonality, so to speak.

This is music that comes to us when two very original instrumental minds meld in the various moments. Neither sounds like anybody but themselves, but in the many moments of inspiration they go beyond what you think those selves sound like and surprise you.

That's the very best sort of improvising! Grab this album by going to

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, Liverevil

There is a group of young titans out there who intermingle in their different ensembles freely and make some great jazz music in the process. There is Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Bryan and the Haggards, and today's incarnation, Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord. The recent 2-CD live set Liverevil (Hot Cup 131) has been out for a little while and it's something.

With Jon Lundbom on electric guitar at the front, we have a potent lineup of Jon Irabagon on alto and soprano saxes, Bryan Murray on tenor and balto! saxes, Moppa Elliot on acoustic bass, Dan Monaghan on drums, and special guest Matt Kanelos on keys.

The band really benefits from the longer cuts and a sympathetic audience, it seems to me. Everybody kicks in with committment. The solos from everyone are excellent. And the tunes are extremely hip, too! There is a little bit of humor with these guys and it's more than refreshing. Yet they are serious players. Serious!!

Jon Lundbom is a guitarist who takes it out in his very own way. There is a full press of note-fullness, a way of patterning in extended chromatic territory that is quite original, and a soulful delivery. In many ways he has arrived, but then so has this band.

Two slabs of excellence, two-CDs, two for your ear-growing exercises. This is the one to get first, I think! Then get the others...

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Claudia Quintet, September

Some times of life are born of frustration. Like this Monday morning when I try and get my reviews done, the PDFs are slow, slow, slow in coming up, as is everything else, I wonder if my virus software is actually functioning as a virus by slowing everything to a crawl, the superfast internet connection seems about as fast as my old telephone modem, spell-check not working right, the tasks and life waiting for me when done perhaps as horrifying as any I've experienced. And on and on, bitch, gripe, bla bla bla.

But then the Claudia Quintet plays as I write this and I remember why in every way I was attracted to music, why I play it, listen to it, why I've been doing these reviews so long, and I try to forget the rest.

The Claudia Quintet? Yes. Their album September (Cuneiform Rune 377). Who is it? Drummer-composer John Hollenbeck. Red Wierenga, accordion, Chris Tordini, contrabass, clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Chris Speed and vibraphonist Matt Moran, and Drew Gress on bass for all but the four cuts that have Tordini.

This is their ump-teenth album. It's the first I've heard and I am glad to be in on it now. It's progressive jazz, compositional jazz, jazz that has a sound very much its own, a touch of rock, things that appeal to musicians because they have something behind them musically, and yes, should appeal to "real" music lovers, too.

The album is all about the month of September. But it sounds good in any month. There is a sampled speech by FDR, taking the opposition to the New Deal to task for their insincerity. The rhythm and tonemic thrust of the speech is turned into a compositional structure--much as Reich has done with works like "Different Trains", only perhaps more "jazzed".

Well and so there are other nice things to like here. This is ensemble music of a high sort. It is important music. It is not in any way expected music. It is not the same old music. So if you are a bassist, a guitarist, a music lover, it is music to hear and grow your ears with.

And so I put it to you, dear readers, as an example of something that's excellent about the time we live in.

We live. This music helps that along. It is very recommended.