Monday, June 30, 2014

Wolfgang Muthspiel, Driftwood

The artistry of Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel is unparalleled. We've come across him here before (look him up in the search box). For his ECM debut as a leader he gathers an excellent trio and they let loose with a weighted, considered form of subtle excellence. Driftwood (ECM B0020543-02) is the result.

This trio covers a lot of ground. Muthspiel plays classical acoustic and electric guitar. His sound is extended and made a part of a whole with the very on bass playing of Larry Grenadier and the inside-outside subtle motion of drummer Brian Blade.

With the exception of the title cut, which is a group composition, these are all Muthspiel's pieces. They envelope the band inside their gently insistent demands and the band in turn forms a freely opening force field around the pieces. There are moments of jazz-rock incandescence where Muthspiel lets loose; there are other moments of introspective beauty where Muthspiel and Grenadier elaborate around a feel and melodic inventiveness.

It's one of those albums you must hear several times to catch all the nuances. It can easily be played in the background but that's not what it is meant for. There is much musicality to hear.

Wolfgang Muthspiel is a post-Towner wizard on the classical and the electric. He has ideal bandmates in Grenadier and Blade. This is a guitarist you would be happy to wake up one morning and find you have become. The second best thing is to revel in this recording. It is unmistakably worthwhile on all levels.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Max Johnson, The Prisoner

Bassist-composer Max Johnson is on the move. The latest album features compositions inspired by the 1968 British TV show that got Max's attention as a youngster and continues to give him inspiration today. The result is the CD The Prisoner (No Business NBCD 66). It's seven movements that comprise a sort of suite, played freely by a well-matched quartet of Max on bass, Ingrid Laubrock on tenor sax, Mat Maneri on viola and Thomas Fujiwara on drums.

This is a moody sort of free-composed jazz that matches the labyrinthian unfolding of the tv series. What that means is that there is space for everybody throughout within the compositional frameworks. Ingrid sounds impressive on tenor, Mat and Max form a two-member string section at times which adds to the sound, and they both solo with smarts. Thomas has an acute set of ears and responds with swing and out feels that help define the music but also show us a drummer who has it!

It's the sort of album you need to listen to a few times to totally grok because it's subtle as well as compelling.

Here is a quartet to hear! I hope they can get together some more because they have a unique chemistry.

Kudos to Max and everybody! This is serious and moving fare.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tohpati, Tribal Dance, Featuring Jimmy Haslip and Chad Wackerman

Indonesian guitarist Tohpati has been breaking things up internationally as a key member of Simak Dialog and in his own right. He comes at us now with a power trio album, Tribal Dance (MoonJune 064). It features the excellent presence of two all-star players, certainly members of one of the units if one were to assemble a couple of dream-team fusion trios, namely Jimmy Haslip on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums.

This is music of great tensile strength, reflecting Tohpati's extraordinary guitar facility and sense--and his roots in Indonesian music. As ever this is a great combination of factors for your ears. The presence of Haslip and Wackerman seem to push Tohpati to a higher level than ever, and of course his bandmates do what you expect them to--give you some cutting edge prog-fusion playing like only they can.

Tohpati's originals here are noteful and musically interesting, many steps beyond the usual fusion licks--and original in a way that is all his.

It's a gas all the way, cutting-edge fusion from start to finish! Listen and dig in.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Noura Mint Seymali, Tzenni

From Mauritania, Africa, comes one of the most wonderful things I've heard all year so far. It's singer Noura Mint Seymali and ensemble, with husband on very electric guitar and tidinit (stringed instrument), his name Jeiche Ould Chighaly, and a back-up rhythm section in a blues-rock mold. The album that's just out is Tzenni (Glitterbeat).

So what's so special? Noura sings in that ultra-melismatic truly African vocal style that you hear in Mauritania and elsewhere. She is a powerhouse and the complete, killer vocalist in every sense. Then underneath her is an equally killer African guitar style that is one part Hendrix-psychedelic, one part African melismatic blues. The African equivalent of bass player and drummer are right there. And they tune in a very African way, with some notes deliberately slightly sharp.

The result is some of the most moving bluesy rock you'll hear. It's African to the core and yet, as we all know (detractors excluded) African music is in part the mother lode of what developments have happened in America and beyond in the past 200 years, so this fits like a very hip glove.

The singing and guitar playing will knock you for a veritable loop! This smokes you and never lets up. Just find it and listen to it a minute even and you'll get it. Then grab a copy and keep quiet and hear what's going on if you might! You will be dam_ed glad you did, I hope! A teaser from You Tube should give you a feeling for what this IS:

Monday, June 23, 2014

B.B. King, the Life of Riley, A Film By Jon Brewer, DVD

There is probably no blues master of the electric generation who has made more impact on the world than B.B. King. If you want to know how and why check out the DVD B.B. King: the Life of Riley (MVD Visual 6345D). It's a movie by Jon Brewer with narration by Morgan Freeman.

The story is as remarkable as the telling. Riley "B.B." King himself, his family and friends, musicians and colleagues all contribute in the telling. From the plantations of Mississippi to the stages of the world, we get the story in two hours of film.

You come away knowing something, maybe much more about what makes B.B. special. Like B.B. telling us he developed the vibrato in his tone to try and imitate the sound of the acoustic slide guitar.

His beginnings were as tough as any. His father left the family pretty early; his mother died while B.B. was quite young. He picked cotton, eventually drove a tractor, and somehow found his way to the guitar. By the time he was in Memphis cutting his first records he HAD it--and it was HIS, and in time, the WORLD's.

From there he had blues hits, bought a bus (which was rare for a bluesman) and hit the road, essentially for the rest of his life. To pay for the bus and the fairly large band he gigged as much as 365 days a year--and that continued from his popular beginnings until later days, the last couple of years, when he's slowed down to three weeks on, three weeks off.

And it hits you how hard he worked to get somewhere. And how good he was from the beginning!

The story of course incorporates the dramatic expansion of the blues audience, how the blues became known and loved the world around, how B.B. was launched into the wide world as somebody everybody knew by name and sound, how he started making some very good money only when he began to cross over to the white youngsters who discovered the blues essentially through the British invasion. And then, how B.B.'s singular guitar sound influenced everybody.

And through it all you get B.B. the man, essentially a great guy as well as a genius. You feel how his struggle to succeed was very much a part of the struggle of Afro-Americans for freedom, justice and equality, a struggle that continues to this day. He was no shucker and jiver, ever. He was close with Martin Luther King and other champions. And his music told of the reality of the blues, the universality of the experience but the particular excellence of B.B. himself. It still does. It always will.

Well, so you should see this. It's excellent.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Benjamin Duboc, St. James Infirmary, Solo Double-Bass

Benjamin Duboc has been a centerpiece bassist on the free jazz scene in Europe for some time now. He has been an important player but until now you never got quite the up-close-and-personal view of his bass playing. All that changes with a welcome solo bass release St. James Infirmary (Improvising Beings 22).

This is good news. (And it's also good news that the Improvising Beings label will be continuing its series of releases after all.)

It's Benjamin Duboc, his bass, the microphones and that's all. And that's all you need. He features a long improvisation based on the classic "St. James Infirmary" to start things off and it is an inspired idea. He sets out the theme and works his way around the implications and improvisations that suggest themselves to him. At times there's that deep woodiness and hard arpeggiated-or-otherwise double stops Charlie Haden first gave to us now rather long ago. But it works for Maestro Duboc as a springboard into his own territory.

The second part of this solo album features bowing, harmonics and a full universe of extended sounds for bass. It nicely complements the first part, taking us from the rooted, soulful elemental expressions to the stratospheric. They balance each other out perfectly well.

In all you get Duboc the thoughtful, full-toned, fully creative bass master at work, neither "standing pat" as the St. James lyrics would have it, nor operating in an ambiguously irresolute zone. Benjamin Duboc knew where he wanted to be in this solo recital and he went there, freely and rather brilliantly.

One of the best bass solo albums to come out this century so far, no doubt about it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Medeski, Martin and Wood + Nels Cline, The Woodstock Sessions, Vol. 2

Medeski, Martin and Wood, like guitarist Nels Cline, are never predictable. Both are known for popular endeavors, Cline as a member of the jamband Wilco, Medeski, Martin and Wood as purveyors of progressive funk. But all of them have been known to take some walks on the wild side in more avant-leaning sessions.

That is the happy case on their Woodstock Sessions, Vol. 2, which was captured last summer in front of a live audience at Applestock Studios in Woodstock. After some time playing the role of Larry Young in a celebrated Tony Williams Lifetime tribute band that included Jack Bruce, Medeski must have been in the mood to take it out.

And all four seem up for it. They are in a free-psychedelic mood on this date and they go to some very adventuresome places that seem organically together as well as a bit experimental.

Cline sounds great as an integral part of the session, certainly more integrated into the band than a guest artist might typically be. All four run the gamut here and create a music that continues in a free jazz-rock zone that doesn't often get a hearing nowadays.

The music burns, flies and orbits space with a clear sense of direction--yet very much in the avant zone.

If you like out electric music this will give you plenty to like. Outstandingly weird!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Raoul Björkenheim / eCsTaSy

Guitarist-composer Raoul Bjorkenheim has a new group, eCsTaSy, and their self-titled album has been out for a few months (on Cuneiform). Pauli Lyytinen, saxes, Jori Huhtala, acoustic bass, Markku Ounaskari, drums, are the fellow Finns in this outfit and they come at you with a heady mix of open free jazz and psychedelia--or if you like, avant jazz-rock.

Bjorkenheim (who started out with Edward Vesala's band) gives you his dynamic, sonically expanded full-frontal attack and all three others of the band have a kick and flourish to their playing that make them a very good match.

It's a matter of serious avant soundings and original frameworks for smart and out blowing. Bjorkenheim and company come through strongly here. All fans of electric exploratory outness I suspect will find this a compelling set.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Hannah Gill, EP

At age 16 what were you doing? Well, never mind. Singer Hannah Gill cut this, her first album, an EP, at age 16. It is self-titled. Brad Hammonds plays guitar here and wrote some of the songs. She sings. She sings very well indeed. Bjork sometimes comes to mind, but only for a second. There is music in her voice. And a maturity of vocal nuance that belies her years. She's good. And these songs hang together too.

This is out-front rock with song-poppiness that doesn't seem contrived. It lays out nicely. She deserves your ears!

The EP is 20-minutes of worthiness. May she thrive.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Timespine, Adriana Sa, John Klima, To Trips

More music of adventure from Portugal today, namely Timespine (shhpuma 008CD), a trio of Adriana Sa on bowed, bottlenecked and plucked zither and sampler, john Klima on bass, and To Trips on dobro guitar and percussion.

The music is open-form avant freedom, improvisations that have a sort of arpeggiated drone feel, of ritual, music for some unknown temple rite. It is uncanny how zither and dobro create a musical miasma of sustained pivots around a key center while the electric bass comments alongside.

Alan Sondheim's early NY ventures on ESP in the '60s are the closest I can come to a parallel. But even then this set strives for more of a singularity in instrumental ambiance where Sondheim explored multiple sound universes. There are sections where the interplay is less drone-like and more pointed, almost like classical Chinese, Korean or Japanese small ensemble string music, but not quite.

It's one of those musical presentations that takes a few listens to appreciate. There is too much new to take it in on one hearing. But then you get it. Or I did, anyway.

This is not going to go metal on you or take a form you will readily recognize. But it is different in ways that convince. So if you have a mind for difference, this will satisfy you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ensemble Elektra, The Book of Time

I've covered violinist-composer-bandleader Elektra Kurtis in the blogs before. Today another from a little while back, Ensemble Elektra and The Book of Time (Milo 104).

The ensemble has a fusioned approach to world music. Elektra's compositions give them a springboard which incorporates traditional Greek, Eastern European and Mideastern elements into a jazz-rock kind of gumbo. Elektra is on violin and is one of the more distinctively expressive exponents out there on the instrument, schooled, yes, but filled with folk life and jazz derived articulation. The ensemble at the time of this recording (1999) included Milo Kurtis on percussion, Tasos Stylianou and sometimes also Kelvyn Bell on electric guitars, Bradley Jones on electric bass (who gives us an out-front well-conceived bass presence throughout), Rufus Cappadocia on cello, Lefteris Bournias on a very distinctive eastern sounding clarinet, Abe Fogle on drums, and India Czajkowska on vocals.

The band gets a blend and drive that put them in their own zone. Elektra's violin playing is a pivotal point and she plays wonderfully.

This is music to live with and get much out of if you give it a chance. If you respond to the tonality and feel of Greek music and beyond and want some jazz-fusion that reflects that, this will give you a real lift. If you don't know what I mean then just listen!!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Amanda Martinez, Mañana

Oh, the places you'll see--or rather the music you'll hear--when you open yourself to the world. Latin music, for example, continues to flourish. How could it not? It has deep roots and lives, thrives and comes at you if you open up.

Like for example here is this beautiful singer-songwriter, Amanda Martinez, and her band doing something very magnetizing on their album Manana (Factor) (And of course now I cannot get the accent to come up here so I look like gringo mas grande. Sorry.) Manana-Manana-Manana, damn! Anyway she sings like an angel and I believe these are HER songs. The band has prominent Spanish guitar and tres playing yet the rhythm has both traditional and modern funkish overtones. There are some beautiful guitar spots.

And her singing makes me feel like it's spring. (At the moment, it seems to be that anyway!) This all is going down in Canada, at least the album was recorded there. But it's for us all, everywhere.

One fine album, this is! I am moved, impressed, and wish my accent buttons would work!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Dewa Budjana, Surya Namaskar

Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana is a heavy. He's been doing some good things on MoonJune Records. His latest finds him coming at us definitive-style. Surya Namaskar (MoonJune 063) puts Dewa in the company of two major fusion players. If you know Holdsworth, Zappa, etc., you'll no doubt know the excellent work of Jimmy Johnson on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. They join Dewa on this outing and that really gets the music charged and electrically vibrant. Both contribute much and give Dewa a backdrop that sets him afire.

Dewa plays some extraordinary solos here--with speed, smarts and originality. These are Dewa compositions and they pop! Gary Husband joins them on keys for the first cut, and there are a few other guests who make excellent contributions. The trio ultimately set up and sustain the album though, as you might expect.

You want something new and hot in the fusion zone, get this one. It rocks!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mike Keneally & Beer for Dolphins, Sluggo! Special Edition

Sometimes you miss something so wholly that when you finally get to it there is a feeling of shock. That has been the case for me with master guitarist, keyboardist, composer Mike Keneally and his album Sluggo! (Exuwax, special 1 CD & 2 DVD edition).

The album came out originally in the '90s and went so out-of-print that copies were selling for a minor fortune on E-Bay. Mike was never happy with the original mix and jumped at the chance to re-do that for this Special Edition set. We get the original album remixed, extra unreleased cuts of real merit, excellent live video footage of the band at a number of club dates, studio tracking videos and more.

The songs are compositionally very together, in a post-Zappa way, from oddball pop-rock to fuzoid spectaculars and haunting melodics. Mike has his own way on piano and keys and we get to hear that directly. And as a guitarist, well damn is all I can say. There is the influence of later Zappa and Vai, and a scorching metal tone that screams, sighs and rumbles its way into your soul. His vocals are cool, too.

These are monumental progressive rock cuts and they simply blow me away. The new edition gives you a wealth of things to absorb. If you are a guitarist or an appreciator of seriously put together advanced rock, or both, this one will kick you in the butt big-time. Get it!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sara Serpa & Andre Matos, Primavera

Sara Serpa, a vocalist to contend with (preposition ending notwithstanding). We've covered a solo album of hers (a post here on December 20, 2011), a duet with Ran Blake (covered on the Gapplegate Music Blog on February 11, 2013), and as a part of the music of Asuka Kakitani (same, March 23, 2013).

Now we enjoy her collaboration with guitarist Andre Matos, Primavera (Inner Circle Music 039). The saudade of Portuguese music means we get a kind of lyricism that has a slightly reflective, sad tinge. It's something you feel listening. You don't have to know Portuguese if you know. This is a set redolent with the Portuguese ethos, and it suits Sara's vocal sweet-deepness well. Essentially here Sara gives us wordless and word-ful vocals plus some electric and acoustic piano. Andre Matos gives us plenty of guitar and electric bass. There is some multiple-tracking to get a full band sound. They are joined by guests Greg Osby, Leo Genovese and Pete Rende for selected cuts, to flesh out the sound a bit now and again.

There are a bunch of very mellifluous Matos tunes and a couple of choice ones by Ms. Serpa. They shine with lyrical beauty and movement. Then there's one goodie by Blake and Jeanne Lee, and a beautiful Portuguese ballad by Guillermo Klein.

It's a subtle, captivating, nicely served-up music with that touch of longing that's great for spring (summer, fall, winter). It shows the very strong musicality of both artists in a very captivating light. It feels good to listen!!