Friday, August 29, 2014

Jeremy Wilms, Diamond People

After various stints with Butch Morris, Chico Hamilton and as the guitarist for the Broadway musical Fela!, Jeremy Wilms comes front and center with his first album, Diamond People (self-released). It's a wide-ranging jazz offering with Wilms the composer and the guitarist getting equal attention.

A largish band carries the music, including Tomas Fujiwara and Greg Gonzalez. There are good players here and they get a hearing. The main emphasis is on Jeremy's pieces, which range from straightforward swinging items with the spice of the modern, some outside electric rockers, some Afro-centric folkish numbers, and everything more-or-less in between.

In fact there is so much diversity in this music that one doesn't know what's next. That is not a bad thing, surely. In the end though one can start feeling overwhelmed with a kind of stylistic overload. That is only to say that it takes a number of listens before it all becomes clear, of course.

Similarly Jeremy's guitar work ranges from straight post-bop to the metallic fringes. I might have wished for a bit more of the latter because I like the way he has with it, but this is all about diversity. He is most definitely a good player well worth hearing. Diamond People covers so many bases that in the end you get how all-encompassing he is as writer and player. A promising musical voice can be heard at length. Take a listen!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tigran, Shadow Theater

I'll be honest. I am anyway. I need an assistant. Someone to log in what I get in the mail, who sent it, the date received, my reactions to it and when and then when it's reviewed if it makes it to that stage. Truth is, it's not an assistant I need. I need to keep going the way I am. But I need to thin out the number of CDs I cover just a tad. There are too many good ones coming in, far more than I can process as one person. Nonetheless I am glad for that problem. It is a good sign for the health of music making.

Like today's album, that I like very much. Tigran. Shadow Theater (self-released). It's been waiting patiently to come up in the queue. Now it has. Turns out I love it but WTF? So I go to Tigran's Facebook page. Oh, OK. Tigran Hamasyan. Born in Armenia (ah, that's what I am hearing, that beautifully melodic influence). Plays the keys and composed the songs. He's lived in LA since 2003.

Is this jazz? What do I care? It's beautiful songwriting in a sort of very lyrical progressive mode and maybe it's called jazz because it's so good? But then you get to hear Tigran solo and you get where that is coming from.

I don't care. No guitars here, much. So shoot me. I put it on this blog page because people into songs and guitars and such need to hear it.

Perhaps it does for Armenian roots what Airto did for Brazil? Maybe. But it's more transformative. It has complex parts that cross prog-fuse, minimalism and Armenain lyricism? Yes.

It's very involved and very beautiful music. Grab a copy if you like melodic hipness! I love it! I tell you no lie.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lo'Jo, Cinema el Mundo

Some music is so different that I initially have no idea what to think, or I even prematurely dismiss it. Then sometimes I think about it and come back to hear it again. That happened to me with Lo'Jo and the album Cinema el Mundo (World Village).

I'll admit the first hearing mystified me. OK they sing in French and what they were singing I didn't quite catch. It's a kind of progressive cabaret pop. And I'll be darned if Robert Wyatt doesn't make a guest appearance. It's a sort of very interestingly arranged art song collection.

I looked on the internet to find that Lo'Jo have been around for well more than the Millennial Generation and this is their tenth album. There is a North-Africa-and-beyond influence, but all reworked to a kind of really oddball music. It partakes heartily in world folk musics and has an almost neo-classical sense in the arrangements.

After hearing enough times, I am a convert. I still don't know what this is, but in the end that is meaningless. It's music that sounds well, very well. It's innovative. It cannot be pigeonholed. At times it has an almost psychedelic ambiance, but no, not precisely. I give up.

Listen a bunch of times. You will no doubt be fascinated as I am with this music.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bibi Tanga, Now

From the Central African Republic comes guitarist-singer Bibi Tanga. His album Now (World Village) gives us a nicely different spin on afrobeat-afropop today. There is a song-orientation that works very well via the memorable tunes from the Tanga song trove represented in these grooves.

And there is groove underneath it, plus a social awareness of things in his native homeland that invites comparison to seminal others that came before. Nevertheless this is Tanga doing things his way. His guitar may not often take center stage but he bears close listening in his rhythm-charged playing style. And his vocals are spot-on.

The music covers the spectrum of eclectic soul-infused possibilities, all with a strongly wry twist that makes Bibi Tanga an artist of originality and dynamic presence. This is the first on his own. Before he was a key member of Malka Family and others; he shows us on Now that he is best served up as the main entree.

Good music!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Elektra Kurtis Ensemble Elektra, AFROdite's Smile

I was very happy when Elektra Kurtis send me some of her CDs to investigate. I am equally happy to post this review of yet another, the third I've covered (one is covered here; another is on the Gapplegate Music Review Blog). Here is yet another Ensemble Elektra offering, from 2004, entitled AFROdite's Smile (Milo 107).

As the liner notes for this one spell out, Ensemble Elektra devotes itself to the interrelations of musics from Greece, Egypt and the Middle-East, along with jazz, rock and blues influences. This one succeeds as do the others. There may be a touch more of Elektra's special violin playing to be had on this one, and that is just great because she has a beautiful sound and her own way. But the ensemble remains critical. This version includes Spiros Exaras on electric guitar, Lefteris Bournias on clarniet and ney, Brad Jones on electric and acoustic basses and Reggie Nicholson on drums. Everyone not surprisingly is very capable and each has a good deal to do with the ensemble's special sound.

As is the case on all the albums Elektra's compositions have a special flare and make important use of the capabilities and artistic personalities of the individual members in the creation of the sounds and modalities of the music.

Fusion, yes, but a most particular fusion unique to Elektra and the band. This is another very good outing that has muscle and finesse, great compositional frameworks, Elektra in an outgoing mood on violin, and a band that has power and depth.

This might not be the first album to get of hers, but it is excellent nonetheless.

Hear this one!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics, Cigarros Explosivos

Is there such a thing as punkish Latin? Not that I am expressly aware of. But if there could be such a thing, Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics come close to it on their humorously titled album Cigarros Explosivos. It's a band from Switzerland playing an enigmatic but infectious blend of Cuban son, rock and a bit of Gypsy swagger.

Jaro's guitar is out front and electric in ways that suggest Santana without actually channeling the Carlos way. Jaro goes where he hears it but there is hardness and strength that the Latin rhythms underpin and make for the urge to move your feet. Plus oddly enough there is a psychedelic surf element there, too. But if it works, and it does, who is to judge what belongs together? The artists do ideally. And they do here, certainly.

Instead of bass guitar the trombonist lays down bass lines with an octave divider, as I understand it. It makes things slightly different underneath but the percussion and keys make it all seem inevitable.

The tunes are varied and cool. If you are looking for "true Latin" this is a bit beyond that. They go their own way. If you let loose your expectations, that ceases to become an issue. So relax and let the music do its quirky thing.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mamani Keïta, Kanou

The contemporary world of African music is exploding. Strong traditions unite with electricity lately on a series of albums that are nothing short of extraordinary. We've dealt with several here in the past year and there is another I must tell you about. Mamani Keïta, a fully nuanced singer in the best of African vocal arts traditions, hailing from Mali, has put together a group that combines West African traditional instruments, such as the stringed ngoni (played beautifully by Moriba Koita) and percussion, with the electricity of bass guitar and the spectacularly right-on electric guitar of Djeli Moussa Kouyaté.

All this on her latest album Kanou (World Village).

The combination of the natural bluesiness of the tradition, the call-and-response vocals and the strong groove conjoins with a rock-blues presence that is near irresistible.

Ms. Keïta sings with complete command and authority. The band takes control of the groove in ways that reminds us that musical Africa has always been and remains central to the world's music. In the updated electric versions all the power of tradition remains but the added jolt of modern wattage gives us a new map of what is possible. Highlife was one way that Africa connected with the world, Afrobeat was another. Whatever you may call this new synthesis, when it's done as excellently as it is here, it is calling to us, reminding us of our universal homeland and what has beautifully become of it in music.

Excellent album! Very recommended.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tom Griesgraber, Bert Lams, Unnamed Lands

Unnamed Lands (ThosSounds) is a beautifully created dual acoustic (and electric) guitar album by Tom Griesgraber and Bert Lams. It begins with Walt Whitman's thought: "Of all those men and women that fill'd the unnamed lands, every one exists this hour here or elsewhere, invisible to us."

This is about our pre-history, our migrations in musical terms in a way, the life that existed for humanity before we gave much thought about it all, about posterity, enough to write down what was happening and how. And of course perhaps about things happening to those who could not write yet, or very well, to our often anonymous forebears.

It is a singularly beautiful album. The intricate guitar work, sometimes seemingly enhanced by a bit of overdubbing, has a sound that is a cross between contemporary folk and the contrapuntal sound that Robert Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists favored. There are synth parts now and again that fit right in without taking away from the essentially homespun sound of the music, though there are moments that take on an ambient soundscape-ish quality.

So in other words there are at times some formally worked out compositional elements and at other times or alternatingly a folkish informality, an improvisational front-porch recital. But then again all of it seems pretty thoroughly worked out regardless of how it comes across. That of course is not a bad thing, especially when it works well as a totality, as it does here.

The fact that it all works and does so well has to do with these two player-inventors and their vision. They get a program together here that has real merit. It is all cosmically mellow, but never vapid or un-contentful.

So for these reasons I do recommend you hear it!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Young Mothers, A Mothers Work is Never Done

Unless you already know, you never know. And none of us know it all. So it feels like that with acoustic and electric bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and his band, the Young Mothers. It's not exactly what you'd expect. I've been listening to the latest, A Mothers Work is Never Done (Tektite), and it frankly surprised me. It starts off in a hip-hop bag and then gets plenty outside.

The band is interesting. Of course Flaten is on the bass. Chicago's Frank Rosaly is in the drum chair and rises to the occasion with grooves and freedom as called for. Then Jason Jackson plays a key role on reeds, as does Jawaad Taylor on trumpet, electronics and vocals. Jonathan F. Home plays electric guitar. Stefan Gonzalez takes up the vibes and appears on drums, too, in his special way. He's Dennis Gonzalez's son and a member of Yells at Eels as well as appearing in his role here.

It's a group effort all the way. There are nice arrangements, hip compositions, good soloing and a mix between out jazz, electric jazz and hip-hop that is unusual but also works well because of Flaten's leadership and the entire band's commitment.

Once you get past what you do or don't expect from this band, you can relax and appreciate. It goes at it and succeeds by taking the music to places that feel right, with conviction and fire. It is cutting-edge yet it incorporates something of what is happening outside the realms of free music in the insular sense. That's healthy when it works. It works.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Glass House, Long Way Down

After 23 years working together, the duo known as Glass House comes through with a new album that has the songs and the delivery. Long Way Down (self-released) gives us Mark Vickness on guitars and David Worm on vocals with some carefully wrought arrangements that feature a good mix of guests that includes the Turtle Island String Quartet, a very capable tabla player, the help in production of Jon Evans and a good deal else besides. You may think of Sting or Peter Gabriel as influences. And of course that suggests what is the case, that Glass House have a sort of prog-rock art-song approach.

After a continual deluge of all kinds of music for review, sometimes I need some good songs to bring me back to earth. Long Way Down has just that something that refreshes my ears without pandering to whatever base instincts such a package often encourages--the easy-peasy, I mean.

This is not easy-peasy pop. There is substance, from the subtle finesse of Vickness on acoustic or the blaze of his electric, the vocal sincerity and substance of Worm's vocals, the arranged hipness and, yes, songs, real songs.

It's not what I might ordinarily listen to, but I felt very much at home hearing this one a bunch of times.

These guys are good. Here's to 23 years more!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Doug MacNaughton, Guitarias

Something today a little unusual: a collection of modern compositions for voice and guitar in the new music classical zone, nicely played and sung by Doug MacNaughton.

Guitarias (self-released) is the name of the offering. It's one of those albums you need to listen to a few times to get acclimated. Once you do, there is plenty of artistry in MacNaughton's classical guitar playing and his singing has real credibility and poise in the modern classical way.

There are four composers, each with a song or song cycle well represented. John Beckwith gives us two "Beckett Songs" based on Samuel B's texts; Leslie Uyeda provides us with "Flower Arranger" on a poem by Joy Kogawa; William Beauvais comes through with a four-song "The Truth of Matter" with poetic texts by Linda Hogan; and lastly John Rutter furnishes his eight-song cycle "Shadows" set with poetry from the 16th and 17th centuries.

This is music with a kind of contemplative aura about it, modern but rather quiet and sophisticated, tonal in an evolved sense. The pieces feature lyrics that evoke imagery that the vocal and guitar parts extend and make concrete in music.

If you aren't into contemporary classical song, you may be a bit at sea with this music. On the other hand this is a chance to hear some good examples, some excellent guitar-vocal part combinations and get yourself into the contemporary classical ethos.

I found the album charming, memorable, and after a while, rather haunting. If you put in the listening work, this one will come through with something excellent, and all told, rather different. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Transatlantic, Kaleidoscope

If you are in the spacey prog-psych rock zone today or feel the need for something new in that realm though it may not be your current steady fare, Transatlantic may be just the thing--specifically the album Kaleidoscope (Radiant 15278-2).

It combines some of the hardness of progmetal with the intricate compositional-arranging and instrumental acuity of the classic middle-period Floyd, Yes, Crimson, Genesis and the like.

Now to do that without sounding like a clone of those bands isn't easy but Transatlantic pulls it off. The quartet gets a very integrated sound out of the lineup--Roine Stolt on guitars and vocals, Pete Trewavas on bass and vocals, Neal Morse on keys and vocals, and Mike Portnoy on drums and vocals.

This is their fourth studio album; they have been at it off and on since 2000, and their group dynamic by now is palpable. You can feel it.

So they run through some very nice originals that have that long-form medley-thematic extendedness that lets you float along indefinitely.

It's one of those albums that convinces you that art-psych-prog rock is far from dead. And that should tell you something of the quality here. Nice!

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Psych Tribute to the Doors

When I was growing up if you didn't like the Doors you were stuck. Their music played everywhere, on AM and FM radio, at your friend's house, at parties, coming out of storefronts, at high-school dances, just everywhere. I bought their first album when it first came out, long before it was immanent, present in all places at most times. I took to the music right away. Morrison was the real thing, the words had clout, the band was excellent, and the songs stuck with you. It was poetic and driving, mysterious-avant and rootsy, life-affirming but on a death trip, rebellious yet a repository of tradition, a bundle of contradictions that the age responded to as to a lost relative.

Well and of course there is a point of saturation, when you are not sure that more is better. But then Jim died. And that ended it.

So we exist still. Humanity, I mean. And the music still sounds fresh. A compilation that's been out for a little bit confirms that, with 13 bands doing 13 of the Doors' gems with full psychedelic flourish, A Psych Tribute to the Doors (Cleopatra Records CLP 1556).

It's the Black Angels and 12 other bands, each getting a certain leverage on a song icon and travelling with it into space. At the end of the space is a garage, for this is garage psych in its own way, mostly all of it.

In the halcyon days of youth all the bands locally played a Door tune or more than one for a while. And much of it sounded something like this in the high school gym, sort of. We lived in a world pretty far removed from Ozzie Nelson and his pancakes then. Our parents, most of them, didn't get it. I feel sorry now about that. Turns out Ozzie-ism came back with a vengeance later, and we did not collectively levitate. But then the Doors and their sound have returned too. Post-surf guitars, Farfisa organs, deep echo, it's stayed around underground and surfaced in various places to good effect. This anthology forms a good part of all that.

No better evidence than on these tracks. They sound in no way dated. New life is breathed into them by pushing them a little further into the psych zone than they were originally, for the most part. But then the Raveonettes take "The End" and give it less push and more lyricism, so go figure.

That is of no importance in the wider scheme. This is music that breathes fire again. It reminds you why the Doors were so strong. Songs!! The songs were the thing...though Jim made us believers by his sheer charisma.

So get all the Doors albums too, but check this one out. It's worth it. Very cool.

Friday, August 8, 2014

NOPAL, Jean-Marc Foussat and Simon Hénocq

Some days it seems enough to get people's name right, find a cover image, get the title typed correctly and...time for a nap! Seriously though that is not what I am about on these pages. Today it's time for some avant duets between synthesizer and skronky electric guitar, as put forward by Jean-Marc Foussat and Simon Hénocq, respectively. The duo and/or the album is entitled NOPAL (FOU CD 03).

It's edgy avant, sometimes noisy, sometimes surprisingly subdued, but always creative and very electric/electronic. Now I have no idea what segment of the population finds this kind of music interesting other than me, but there must be a fair number since I get readers when I review music such as this.

So what gets me especially interested is the thickly textured complexities that result when Hénocq's guitar comes through fully overloaded or distinctly foregrounded doing something Syd Barrett got fired for doing too much of live with Pink Floyd. That is, this sort of guitar abstractionism coupled with Foussat's creative synthesizer striations and strangulations.

You get 42 minutes of it, all interesting, and I believe you can get it on LP or CD. These are imaginative sound sculptors. If you go for noisy and ever-shifting sound complexes, like your electric guitars on occasion to be played with psychedelic irreverence, this is definitely for you.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Noel Johnston, Salted Coffee

There are some albums you put on for the first time and...Wham! From the first couple of notes on you just know there are some heavy doings in store. And then the album lives up to it.

That's pretty much how I felt from the first moments of hearing guitarist Noel Johnston and his album Salted Coffee (Armored Records 8039). This is highly charged, highly electric fuse-metal that hits hard and has smarts too.

Noel Johnston shows himself an exciting, blazing electric guitarist here with an overdriven sound, some pretty amazing line building chops when he is nailing it and an overall feel that drives you out of your seat, I suppose you could say. He's joined by game power trio members Jason "JT" Thomas on drums and Jeff Plant on bass, both right there where they should be. Shaun Martin and Greg Beck guest on keys and percussion, respectively, for a couple of tracks, but otherwise it's just the trio hard at work.

Noel has some really good ideas and he puts them across--like turning Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge" into metal. And it happens! There are lots of nice tunes Noel wrote and they set up the trio and the guitar coolness with a flair.

He is different enough that he doesn't sound like he is channeling anybody as much as recreating the advanced metal thing and driving it into his own orbit. He comes up with power chords that are refreshing and unexpected and he lines with very musical results.

So that's it. This is one for metal heads who want something further, who are sick of the cliches and would welcome a fresh set of ideas. That's what you get here!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Last Dance

The death of bass-master, leader, seminal new jazzman Charlie Haden has been having something of a delayed effect on me. As the days go by I think more and more of the wealth of gifts he has given us, as Ornette Coleman's original and most original bassist, as a leader of the wonderful Liberation Music Orchestra, as the bassist in Keith Jarrett's bands through the early seventies, and in myriad other contexts this was an artist whose impact was perhaps subtle but thoroughly penetrating.

He was a bassist with a one-of-a-kind sound born of an enormous tensile grip, with the biggest, woodiest tone of anyone after 1960, nevertheless wholly HIS sound, with a deliberate, perfect intuitive sense of what to play whether it was harmolodic Ornette and the kaleidoscope of multiple key centers, the adventuresome post-Ornette of Keith's first bands, the diversity of his own music or just plain old bop and changes. He excelled and was himself at all times. He showed us that strength can top speed when it's inspired.

And now he is gone. That's hard to bear. But we have his recordings.

As a kind of final gesture of musical impact, we have a somewhat surprising release, a reunion with his old leader, Keith Jarrett, doing a series of deeply felt standards in duet, Last Dance (ECM 2399 B0020803). It's just Charlie and Keith in the latter's Cavelight Studios, getting together one more time.

This album is not about flash, about velocity, though there is a bit of it here and there. Charlie's playing was never that anyway. But Keith too is in a subdued mood. Each carefully pick their notes, try and make the most out of the old chestnut tunes, and they surely succeed.

"Goodbye", the final cut, moves with the hindsight that this WAS goodbye for Charlie, one of them anyway. But in any event the entire album has that perfect concentration on essentials. No, this isn't Keith the technical wizard at work, not primarily. He and Charlie are playing for themselves, getting inside the songs, not playing for the big auditorium or the cutting contest.

After you listen a few times it hits you. This is not about anything but what notes they lay down on top of the classic standard song structures. And they try and make it count.

It's a moving testament to an old musical relationship that created magic most every time out, to the fundamentals of jazz expression.

So long and thanks so much, Charlie. You gave us so much and we are grateful.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Tim Morse, Faithscience

Tim Morse has something. On his second album Faithscience (Amethyst Edge Productions 42001) you hear it consistenly. It's a set of 11 originals with a prog-fuze through-composed kind of eclectic yet somehow original brilliance. Tim sings, plays keys and guitars, Jerry Jennings plays a nice electric guitar, Gordon Stizzo drums with hardness and sensitivity, Jim Diaz plays bass, Mark Dean appears here and there on drums, bass and guitar, and then there are various guests including some strings and brass now and again.

The arrangements and the songs have a fully composed, tightly drawn-together solidity that you might expect from great prog-fuze but do not always get. Here Morse gives you the full magilla of noteful passage in a sea of lyric expressivity.

This is a prog landmark of sorts. It isn't going to convert prog-haters but it will be manna for prog-lovers.

Tim is a real talent out there.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Paul O'Dette, My Favorite Dowland, Lute Music of John Dowland

I sometimes agonize over where best to put a review posting. Where would it have the most impact? Which set of readers needs to know about this release over and above the others? It's never easy but I am confident that today's post here is where it belongs. John Dowland (1563-1626) was hands-down the master of composing for the lute. His lute pieces span the centuries and speak to us as vividly and touchingly as ever. Anyone who either plays or loves to hear the guitar should have exposure to the lute classics, partly because they are a treasure, partly because the musical techniques and melodic brilliance of great lute music should be heard for the insights they give on what is possible on a fretboard.

So given that, I must also say that lutenist Paul O'Dette is one of our contemporary masters, a player of nearly infinite poise and expressivity. So when he records My Favorite Dowland (Harmonia Mundi 907515), it is an occasion.

My expectations were high when I first put this one on, and I was not disappointed. This is a wonderful compilation of extraordinary lute music, played with the masterful touch of Paul O'Dette.

Now I am not the guy to tell you what to do, but this would be an indispensable volume for anybody who reads this column with any regularity. It's a gem of brilliance! I testify to it. It glows as it gives you the Dowland lute complexities and genius the way they were meant to flow. Kudos!