Friday, May 30, 2014

Hassan Hakmoun, Unity

Traditional Gnawa music from Morocco has something to it that is hard to resist. The three-stringed bass instrument called the sintir sets up riff ostinatos, a group of percussionists get with the groove and there are solo vocals and response choruses with plenty of soul.

It now seems inevitable that such a music would find someone to update the music by fusing it with riff-bluesy rock. Hassan Hakmoun, excellent sintir player and vocalist, has electrified his instrument, added metal-blues guitar and rock-funk drums to the mix and created a hybrid music that works completely.

You can hear it to excellent advantage on his latest album, Unity (Healing Records). The album goes from strength-to-strength in an unending string of movingly hip numbers. Anyone with the ears for Afro-groove and hard rock-blues will be drawn into this one right away, I would think, like I was.

It is a music of great excitement! Go with it!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dave "Knife" Fabris Featuring Ran Blake, Lettuce Prey

Two years ago I took a look at Vilnius Noir, a very adventurous duet between pianist Ran Blake and guitarist Dave "Knife" Fabris (go to May 11, 2012). Two years later we are back with an album by Dave with more Ran Blake interactions plus other very diversely situated music Dave put together. The new one is called Lettuce Prey (Great Winds 3169).

There is so much to appreciate on this one. Some more great duets with Maestro Blake plus things like a solo version of Hendrix's "Angel", a rock ensemble tearing through part of Prokofiev's "Scythian Suite", some nicely together songs with a couple of guest vocalists, and much more.

Dave is a guitarist of finesse, great ideas, fine music, compositional-arranging clout. He is not here to blow you away with chops, though there is plenty of technique. This one is all about the music.

It is an excellent outing in advanced jazz and rock zones. You must listen! There is no substitute. Very cool music.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dave Askren, Jeff Benedict, It's All About the Groove

I listen to so many CDs every month. Some immediately disqualify themselves as not-yet-ready-for-prime-time, some seem formulated to appeal to a certain radio audience, people who look for something that I do not find interesting, and so both categories of music don't generally find their way onto these blogs.

Beyond that I appreciate anything well-played and well-meant and that certainly includes the CD up today. It's All About the Groove (self-released) features a co-led quartet that spotlights guitarist Dave Askren and alto saxist Jeff Benedict, two players into a straight-ahead jazz thing that is well-considered and always swinging.

That is in part thanks to the rhythm section of John Belzaguy on bass and Ramon Banda on drums, who do a nice job keeping the groove very together.

The arrangements are cool. There is a mix of standards and hip blowing tunes. Askren and Benedict have a limber solo ability that brings on the grits and gravy and a little brain salad, too. They swing and think on their feet.

So will this one change the world? No but these are very good players and they have an infectious joy to what they do. Everybody with a head for this thing will dig it. But then guitarist Dave will turn around and smoke you in the process (dig some of the chordal things he gets into, for example), as will Jeff.

Joy and groove!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tatvamasi, Parts of the Entirety

Guitarist and composer Grzegorz Lesiak forms the main catalyst behind the Polish jazz-rock outfit Tatvamasi. They enjoy their debut album on Parts of the Entirety (Cuneiform). It is a quartet that thrives on combining a Slavik sensibility with an avant-garde insistency.

The band excels through the tension ratcheted up between an in-your-face avant tenorman with plenty of ideas and heft (Tomasz Piatek), guitarist Grzegorz and his neo-psychedelic coloring, his out guitar-chord comping, east-meets-out solo style, and a very loose yet full-speed-ahead rhythm section of electric bass and drums, Lukasz Downar and Krzysztof Redas, respectively.

The compositions are generally built on riffs that have an interesting spin to them. Melodies float atop at times and the improvisations are wide-ranging and driving.

This is solid, absorbing progressive music that gets your attention and holds it. Listen to it and I think you'll dig it like I did.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mary Halvorson, Thumbscrew, with Michael Formanek and Thomas Fujiwara

Guitarist Mary Halvorson has cred out there that is deserved. She plays in her own avant garde jazz style and has been doing so for some time. She forms one-third of the trio called Thumbscrew, whose self-titled album came out earlier this year (Cuneiform). Mary joins up with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Thomas Fujiwara to make a very potent combination.

The album features compositional material freely treated and that puts it all in a more ambitious context than a free pickup date might have.

The album shows off all three and their special ways of putting themselves across. It also has a real group dynamic going on between the three.

If I am a little behind posting on it that has nothing to do with worthiness. This is a goody. Any serious student of free music/out jazz and the modern guitarist, bassist and drummer should give this one a spin.

I hope they continue their association for a long time to come. In the interim there is the debut album. Listen to it if you can! Oh, I should mention they are on tour in Europe and US through September, 2014. Look them up on the net to see if they are coming to your zone.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Magic Sam, Live at the Avant Garde, June 22, 1968

The great Chicago bluesman, vocalist, guitarist and purveyor of his very own brand of soul blues, Magic Sam. He hit the limelight then passed away suddenly, tragically. It all happened so fast that most people dug him (outside of Chi-town) only after he had left us. As time goes on that is ever more true, with those alive who saw him in the local clubs now a small minority compared to his international fame and following.

We are lucky that he was captured live in his element more than a few times. And we are lucky to hear one from June 22, 1968 that to my knowledge has not been available before, Magic Sam Live at the Avant Garde (Delmark 833). This one has it all, that live feel that makes the blues fly in Chicago, then his band captured well in decent sound. His guitar is in full flight, as are his vocals. This date may have been in Milwaukee, but Sam brings Chicago with him!

This one has a very nice mix of Chicago blues classics like Bobby Blue Bland's "Don't Want No Woman", Muddy's "Hoochie Coochie Man" and Magic Sam's own specialties.

It's a hell of a nice ride. Sam sounds as good or better than ever. He did more with a guitar-bass-drums trio than many did with a much fuller outfit. And that was great because there was all the more space for that screamingly supercharged guitar of his.

Don't miss this!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Alejandro Almenares, Casa De Trova, Cuba 50's

Cuban music has been such an important force in the development of the modern Latin style of dance music today. We sometimes forget that this music has roots that go way back.

Today's two-CD set by Cuban tres guitar player Alejandro Almenares, Casa De Trova, Cuba 50's (Tumi 228), helps us get acclimated with some beautiful son ensemble classics, played with real zest and style.

Alejandro, now 76 years old, was born into the music. His father Angel was the founder of La Casa De Trova, a well-known Cuban music nightspot, and one of Cuba's most celebrated troubadors. Alejandro took up the tres guitar at an early age and inherited the music and culture of his father, adding to it and keeping it all vivid and very alive.

He still plays at the Casa De Trova and no doubt puts on a wonderful show. The album at hand puts him in the context of his band, with rhythm guitar, percussion, of course the tres, backup vocals and lead vocals.

The first disk goes through the 13 songs as instrumentals with response-style backup vocals only, so you can really hear Alejandro's tres style, in a way a synthesis of what full ensembles would do with piano and horns and still do today. The second disk takes those same songs and adds the lead vocals.

There's no feeling of redundancy because the music appeals either as instrumentals or as vocals and so you just let the music take you where it does. Alejandro is a revelation and a wonder to hear. Everybody gets that spirit and goes with it.

I am thrilled to hear the music and very happy I have a copy of it all to return to. Very much recommended.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Xavi Reija, Resolution

The guitar-bass-drums trio in rock and especially in jazz-rock has become an institution. I remember thinking when Cream announced its trio lineup many years ago, "how can they sustain the music with only three players?" It turns out that it was not only sustainable but also gave considerable freedom and leverage for all three voices.

And so we have had some monumental music that has come out utilizing the trio lineup over the years. I won't rehearse the names here. Now there's another trio doing very good things.

It's the trio fronted by drummer Xavi Reija. Not a household name, you say. True. But if there is one thing I've learned as a reviewer this past decade, one should forget initially about the name and go to the music. Then the name will stay with you or not, depending on what you hear. In this case Xavi Reija plus Dusan Jevtovic on guitar (who we've heard before in the very cool album "Am I Walking Wrong") and Bernat Hernandez on bass make a music that make you take note. Their album Resolution (MoonJune 062) says it all in ways that perk up your ears. They've learned from the classic Holdsworth edition of Tony Williams Lifetime to create islands of tone that open up the rhythmic feel and give the drummer a concerted role. It works here very differently than with Tony's group but it works supremely well!

Each player has a pretty well-defined roll in this threesome. Xavi lays down well-conceived and blistering beats that are elaborate, varied and driving. Dusan plays a well-sustained chordal and noteful role that is hip and nearly orchestral in its fullness. The chords are out and unusual and the note choice goes with them in distinct ways. Bernat plays some riffs at times but also plays around, inside and through the riff idea as another melodic voice.

The three make a very heavy yet very sophisticatedly out noise, a joyful noise built on solid group compositional ideas and free interplay.

This is not your typical fusion trio going through the rote licks--quite the contrary. They set up musical pins that have patterns quite their own and knock them down with a relish and zest that gets your psychedelic blood boiling.

This one is a scorcher from start to finish--and more about movement in large blocks than piecemeal blurry-fast scale mongering. Jevtovic has a real sense of space that the other two only bring out the more strikingly.

It's pretty killer stuff! Hear this or be behind where we are going, part of it anyway!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fareed Haque, Trance Hypothesis

Guitarist Fareed Haque and his ensemble on the album Trance Hypothesis (Delmark 5012) are no joke. Not that anybody is suggesting they are. Ever since my youth and the advent of the "Indian Beatles", Ravi Shankar, John McLaughlin, and so on I've been very much smitten by South Asian influenced jazz and rock when done well.

And Fareed Haque does it well! He combines contemporary funk and rock-jazz with Indian instruments such as the tabla, sitar, and goes as far afield as to include an oud player, plus some hot Western musicians and some very hip charts.

Fareed plays very formidable lines on electric-acoustic guitar, the organist is hip in the post-Larry Young mode and everybody pulls weight here.

Sometimes you are reminded of the McLaughlin trio that had Gurtu, other times things get more dense. There are killer tracks, some a bit less killer, but this is a statement of the East-West thing that bears hearing and continues the vibrant cross-fertilization that has been a vibrant part of my own lifetime musically. So I am glad. And Maestro Haque is no slouch on guitar. On the contrary!! Recommended.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Roby Lakotos & Ensemble, La Passion, Live at Sydney Opera House

As most are well aware "Gypsy Jazz" is undergoing a vast resurgence. Most of the time, however, what is meant by that is tributary revivals of the jazz as played by Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Hot Club group featuring violinist Stephan Grapelly. As wonderful as that music is it is not the only Gypsy Jazz possibility out there. Demonically endowed technician and passionate violinist Roby Lakatos gives us an alternative on his recent 2-CD set La Passion, Live at Sydney Opera House (Avanti Classic 5414706104125).

It takes as its starting point classical music that reflects Gypsy music, old folk melodies and some unusual but appropriate other material, like the pop song "Those Were the Days" and Tchaikovsky's "Flight of the Bumblebee". Then there are nods to the Django-Grapelly nexus as well with things like "Honeysuckle Rose".

The ensemble features the incredibly facilitated Gypsy violin of the leader plus a pianist and a cimbalom player who are also fantastically adept. Filling out the ensemble is someone who gets a chance here and there to demonstrate a post-Django prowess on guitar, plus bass and second violin.

It is a treat to hear these folks in the full flower of passion. Lakatos is a veritable demon and his band is right there with him. This is great fun but also some extraordinarily exciting music!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Adam Smale, Out of the Blue

Toronto native 7-string guitarist Adam Smale arrives in New York to present his US debut album Out of the Blue (self released). He cites Lenny Breau as an influence and his pick-less playing style has clear affinities, though naturally Wes Montgomery also comes to mind on the earthy chordal syncopations.

The album sports eight good swinging Smale originals plus Wayne Shorter's "Yes and No". The quartet is on top with relaxed cooking from Smale, pianist Mathew Fries, bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Keith Hall. All sound good and Fries gives us a nice second solo voice with bop/post-bop articulations of a good sort. Palombi can give us a rootsy solo that is worth hearing as well.

But it is Adam Smale who comes through as the main attraction--a very finessed player who has soul and good ideas.

OK, yeah!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Joshua Breakstone, With the Wind and the Rain

Some disks come along that are so "just right" that you recognize them from the first notes on. That's how guitarist Joshua Breakstone's With the Wind and the Rain (Capri 74131-2) hit me right off the bat.

Why? The hardbop-and-beyond finesse of these guys comes right at you. Joshua is an excellent guitarist in a sort of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, Pat Martino zone, with lots of soul and changes-negotiating, line-weaving artistry. Lisle Atkinson and Eliot Zigmund on bass and drums give you that lift they are known for and take advantage of the pianoless space to get relentless swing feels going. Then for four of nine cuts they are joined significantly by Mike Richmond on pizzicato cello in the tradition of Pettiford and Carter, and that gives everything a real jolt. Mike sounds great.

They hot-up some heavy tunes like Paul Chambers' "Visitation", Pettiford's "LaVerne Walk" and Kenny Dorham's "Short Story". They do righteous versions.

This one has the kindling to get the fire going! Dig in and dig!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Fernando Ulibarri, Transform

When life is like a whirlwind, we have to learn to fly alongside. That's how I feel writing up the last review post of the week, number 15. I have to sort through the press sheets this weekend because they are out of order and so I don't have the background on the artist here that I would like. OK, I found his website. Guitarist Fernando Ulibarri hails from Costa Rica, went to Berklee, graduated, went on to get his MA from Florida International University in Miami. And he remains based in that city.

OK, good. His album Transform (self-released) focuses on a fine quartet doing some memorable Ulibarri numbers in a rock-inflected modern jazz vein. This is harmonically based changes music that Ulibarri negotiates with melodic liveliness. His guitar work sings. His band has the right cats for this music. Jim Gasior plays piano and keys in the vein that makes something out of the changes too. Bassist Josh Allen and drummer John Yarling have that relaxed push jazz-rock that we can trace back to Gary Burton's early-to-mid period recordings. But they do it well.

Fernando is an artiste. You might hear the influence of Metheny but with a bright kind of transcendence that goes beyond the imitation stage.

This is seriously good music and Mr. Ulibarri will put a smile on your face. Nice!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Suzanne Vega, Live, Solitude Standing, DVD

Sometimes we miss things. We get busy then have to catch up. I missed Suzanne Vega in all but the most perfunctory way in the last decade. But now I realize what I've missed, thanks to the nice DVD of Suzanne live in Rome, 2003, Solitude Standing (WeinerWorld 2582). We get 62 minutes plus a 12-minute interview. The concert thrives by its simplicity. There's her, her voice, acoustic guitar and poetry recitation, plus a good electric bassist accompanying and an Italian translator to follow Suzanne with the Italian version of each poem.

The poems and the Italian are perhaps less central (if you don't know Italian) but they add to the variety. What's special is Suzanne's expressive recital of some of her strongest tunes. The guitar playing is in the folk vein, nicely complementing her evocative singing.

The DVD has converted me to Suzanne Vega. I appreciate! That's saying something for the video, but of course even more for the performances contained within. It will leave you with a good feeling, and we need that sometimes, especially now.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sonar, Static Motion

Sonar takes minimalist repetition and makes a kind of African-rooted rock thing out of it. Well not just African, there are proto-progressive post-Crimsonian experimental things going as well. All this on their album Static Motion (Cuneiform).

They are a Swiss quartet of Stephan Thelen on guitar, Bernhard Wagner, guitar, plus bassist Christian Kuntner and drummer Manuel Pasquinelli.

They've had a couple of albums out and this is the first on Cuneiform.

What's nicely done here is the contrapuntal interplay between all four. There are mesmeric groove repetitions that evolve and allow for a bit of overtop soloing on guitar, but in the end it is the relentless, hip groove that keeps you wheeling along with them.

It's put together well and it hangs together well as you listen time and again.

If you like rock-trance music, this is a very good one indeed. Recommended.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Carmen Cuesta, toda una vida...

The musical category of "Latin" has a potential vastness. It encompasses so much as to be almost a conundrum. Yet it has validity in the world of divisions and markets. So today we have something in a Latin jazz, Latin vocal realm. Something good.

Singer Carmen Cuesta, a native of Spain, has been thriving doing Brazilian classic bossa. In her new one she turns a bit, doing a Spanish-language-oriented series of songs Latin, some with a pronounced bolero flavor. The album is called toda una vida... (Tweety Records 0004).

The music is an eclectic mix that works well thanks to the real artistry of Ms. Cuesta's sensuous and musically astute vocals. Guitarist Chuck Loeb co-produced the album with Carmen and Paco Ortega. He is responsible for the nicely done arrangements and adds his acoustic and electric guitar throughout, sometimes to stunning effect. You will most certainly recognize some Latin standards here and others maybe won't be familiar, but they all have a special stamp of very personal vocal stylings and nice arrangements.

It's all pretty jazzy and done with perfect taste and imagination.

Carmen Cuesta is a phenomenon. Chuck Loeb gives her a near perfect backdrop.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Daunik Lazro, Joelle Leandre, Hasparren

When an artist is as prolific as bassist Joelle Leandre has been lately, is there a point where more is redundant? Not when you have the consummate mastery of Ms. Leandre and her ability to interact with all kinds of interesting players. So if I had any latent misgivings of covering yet another disk by Ms. Leandre right now, they were immediately dispelled by hearing the disk at hand: Hasparren (No Business CD62) a duo set with baritone sax-man Daunik Lazro.

The two have been playing and sometimes recording together for more than 30 years. In 2011 they played together in Hasparren and the "tapes" were running. Good thing because they are on it for sure here.

The range of the baritone and that of the contrabass are of course very simpatico and the two make maximum use of range and timbre as two sides of a complementary totality. Ms. Leandre begins with some wonderful acro phrasings that Lazro responds to in kind and it goes from there to some wonderful spontaneous dialogues.

I won't go to a blow-by-blow description because it isn't necessary. Instead I'll just say that the set gives us the beauty that results when two masters freely respond to one another.

This is not a feather in either's cap. It IS a cap in itself. Listen closely and you'll be put in a very good place.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

John Davey, Open Range

With John Davey's album Open Range (Lil' Pumpkin 006) we get a worthy confluence of players hitting it pretty hard in ways that reference the Abercrombie-Holland-DeJohnette Gateway Trio in their early days. Not in some direct copycat way, but there's smoke and fire here that hearkens back without a hardening of the arteries. The improvisations have their own originality and spontaneity.

So who is playing? John Davey on acoustic bass--a man who chooses his notes wisely and has the rhythmic thrust to get things burning. Drummer Dean Sharp has a busy heat in the advanced jazz-rock mode that is totally right for this date. Guitarist Ken Mcgloine has a rock edge with sometimes screaming lines that are generally pretty cranked and so get that sustain going. I like his harmonic and melodic sense and find much that attracts me to his playing on the set.

The mostly original tunes ring out well and have solidity to them that only adds to the hip quality of this date. There are several seconds of music because of which as a producer I would have suggested another take. They are quite minor in the scheme of things. Otherwise this is one hip record. Recommended!