Friday, February 27, 2015

John Wetton, Richard Palmer-James, Jack-knife & Monkey Business Reissue

John Wetton came to my attention (and those who followed such things) as the replacement for departing bassist-vocalist Greg Lake during King Crimson's second phase. His vocals and songwriting, along with his bass playing, gave the band a second life much in keeping with the direction Fripp favored in those days. Later of course Wetton became a key member of UK and Asia.

Throughout the period and after has been a long association with lyricist-guitarist Richard Palmer-James, beginning from their schooldays in 1962 and continuing apace. We have some of the best fruits of that collaboration with two of their albums re-released and packaged as a special 2-CD set, namely Jack-knife (1978) and Monkey Business (1972-1997) (Primary Purpose 001).

Jack-knife is nothing to sneeze at, with its eclectic collection of blues classics done prog-style and originals. But the second album Monkey Business fascinates me a good deal more, a kind of scrapbook of demos, alternate versions and the songs King Crimson were working on when the band came to an abrupt halt, ending the second phase in 1974.

We get some excellent prog rock in various stages of completeness but all with a spark of immediacy, some music very familiar from Crimson (and UK and Asia), others not as much, but all fascinating. We get different versions of "Easy Money," "The Laughing Lake," "Starless," and much else besides.

It will bring back a period for those who originally experienced it, but it is good music anyway for those who didn't.

This may not get to those not enamored with prog in its prime period, but for others it will be most memorable and absorbing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Toulouse Engelhardt, Mind Gardens

For contemporary acoustic guitar soloists who have established their own distinct style of playing, we can think of Gary Lucas, John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Ralph Towner. All have laid down their own original turf to create vibrant music that to varying degrees draws upon folk styles, country blues and/or classical guitar influences.

To that list we can add Toulouse Engelhardt, based on his recent solo album Mind Gardens (Lost Grove Arts 1008). "13 Novelties of Space, Time and Contemplation" is how the album cover describes the music. It fits. Other than one duet for guitar and alto flute this is an all-solo affair.

Toulouse plays six- and twelve-string guitar with the sort of flourish one expects of someone worthy of such lengthy display. I like the way he voices chords especially. He gets some beautiful, bright, resonant sounds by doing such things and it is great to hear. He can also pick out very well on chords-melodies in interesting ways that may remind a bit of Kottke but as an extension, not a copy.

It is music that washes over you in most pleasing ways, yet for the guitar conscious he is doing something that's worth attending to. Check out his nice version of the Shaker hymn "'Tis A Gift to Be Simple" if you want to hear his very creative way with something familiar.

This is good. Very, very good. Acousticians take note!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

SimakDialog, Live at Orion, Two-CD Set

The remarkable Indonesian fusion group SimakDialog have been mixing it up for a while with a number of increasingly developed albums on MoonJune records. They return in a big way with a 2-CD set recorded in a Baltimore, MD venue, Live at Orion (MoonJune 068).

It is a treat to listen to the well-recorded date, with all the advantages a live gig can have--the ability to stretch out, take more chances, improvise at greater length, be energized by a sympathetic audience, and such. That is very much what happens on this set.

Riza Arshad on electric piano, Tohpati on electric guitar, Rudy Zulkarnaen on bass guitar, and the traditional Indonesian hand percussion threesome of Endang Ramdan, Erlan Suwardana and Cucu Kurnia, and special guest Beledo on electric guitar for the final piece--all make this a special occasion.

The percussion triumvirate gives the music drive yet also leaves an audio opening for the electric instruments that gives them their own aural pocket. In a live setting the doings of keys, guitar and bass are all the more out front. Their interplay and that of the percussion section gives off a special dynamic clarity.

The pieces are expanded versions of previously recorded numbers and perhaps a couple of new ones as well. Their Indonesian-fusion mix has never sounded so convincing as here, though previous albums are uniformly terrific.

Both guitarist Tohpati (plus the guest Beledo) and keyboardist Riza Arshad come through with some very impressive soloing in the advanced fusion realm. Guitar enthusiasts will especially appreciate Tohpati, who is on fire here, showing himself as one of the more innovative and accomplished artists out there these days. Riza sounds excellently inventive, too. And the two-guitar jamming on the final cut is something to hear.

This live album is definitely one of their very best. The excitement builds and the energy never flags. Excellent. Primo SimakDialog! Start here if you don't know the band. And you should. In any case this is not to be missed.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Looking for Johnny, The Legend of Johnny Thunders, DVD Documentary

Who was Johnny Thunders? He was the legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter with the New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers, and as a solo artist who died in 1991 at the tender age of 36. The Danny Garcia docu-biography film Looking for Johnny is out on DVD (MVD Visual 6544D) and I watched it the other night with interest.

Johnny was in some ways a Keith Richards of the later generation of rockers. He wrote effective songs, played guitar in straightforward ways, and lived an image of the rocker-on-the-edge that was all too real. The film follows his life with extensive interview footage, including some of Johnny himself, concert/club video excerpts and a chronological narrative.

It tells the story of how he fit in with the New York Dolls and their emphasis on raw hard rock and a visual wallop, then follows him into the Heartbreaker days when the music continued in the raw and hard vein that was in the end intertwined with punk though in the musical sense it had a kinship but not an absolutely identical quality. And it goes on to his solo and on again, off again band offshoots.

It is a story of the tragedy of rock excess. By this period the image of the rock star and legitimation by self-destruction had carried over from the earlier jazz-Bird ethos and entered the electric music scene. Johnny got heavily into hard drugs and ultimately it contributed to his early death but also in part hindered any significant major success. He was and many in his band were so obviously strung out that they gained a reputation for unreliability which seems quite warranted. Beisides, a dangerous image was one thing but the rock world needed artists to produce on demand and Johnny was not always ready to put together a cohesive musical presentation when it was most needed.

His solo career is covered in some depth and on the musical side it revealed Johnny as a more versatile songwriter with a prolific ability to come up with some good tunes.

But mostly this is a story of a talent that gradually slid down the slope of self-destruction into an early oblivion. In that way he was the prototypical rocker of the era, a person who would rather destroy himself than grow old. The film describes that slide in detail, harrowingly I suppose you could say. The testimony of friends and associates, band members and rock industry magnates associated with his career, all of it contributes to a vivid picture of someone who simply could not stop, who was inside a fragile creature not really suited to the emotional and lifestyle extremes of the rock scene of the day.

It's very sad in the end. And pretty riveting throughout. Certainly a good and engrossing documentation of the New York scene and the burgeoning raw-rock revival. It explains his success, and it goes into the labyrinthian variables that the music business embodied in his day, how his dangerous image was both a way to sell him and also what kept him off the mainstream money-wagon for the most part. Fascinating.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Curved Air, North Star

For whatever reason I paid almost no attention to the prog rocker British group Curved Air in their heyday. I heard their big hits on the radio and did not hate them; otherwise I was moving into other directions then.

They disbanded and reformed several times and last year recorded a new album, North Star (Curved Air 002). I was sent a copy, listened, and was surprised that I rather liked it. A few months later and here I stand with a review of same.

I like it. They do some of the old songs, some new ones and some covers, notably Lennon's "Across the Universe." The original singer, Sonja Kristina, is there and she sounds fine. Kirby Gregory is on lead guitar and makes a good showing as does violinist Paul Sax.

It's about a prog-psych ambience, some nice prog-type arrangements and a little bit of soloing, and the songs, which strike me as memorable. They get a rich group sound, too.

So if you aren't into prog you may not care for this music. But if you are it is a most pleasant surprise. It's good for all that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, Jeremiah

Now that all the hooting and hollering about Blue is behind us, I trust we can get back to the music other than that one! MOPDTK of course is one outfit and Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord is another. There are members that span both groups, but the two have managed to maintain separate identities. Both have a sense of humor and both do some amazing music.

The Jon Lundbom aggregation have come through with a new one, Jeremiah (Hot Cup 142), that should remind us (the Catholic "we") that these cats still kick some exceptionally large butt. Or is it that they kick butt very swiftly and in a timely manner? Never mind the turn of phrase. You I am sure get me.

This album is another scorcher. Jon Lundbom supplies most of the compositional frames and they jump out at you. But he also is an exceptional electric guitarist who needs to be listened to. He has a jagged style that is out in a linear way but rhythmically outstanding as well. I won't say that he has the rhythmic sensibility of later Zappa, but both manage to play with time and against time in their own distinctive way. So his guitar wielding is something to hear.

The band is at its iconoclastic best again on this one. They have two guests who add to the mix in good ways. They are Justin Wood on alto and flute, Sam Kulik on trombone. So you get four horns for the compositional gathering and the guests solo well too.

Otherwise it's the potent combination of Lundbom, Jon Irabagon on soprano, Bryan Murray on tenor and baltosax, Moppa Elliot on bass, and Dan Monaghan on drums (and that snare!....sorry, a little allusion to some humor expressed by band members on social media in reference to my naming their last album as a "Record of the Year" last December).

If you don't think these guys can be funny listen to Bryan Murray's solo entrance on "The Bottle." Why it is funny I cannot put into words, but some of AEC's playing in their heyday was funny in inexpressible ways like that.

But the band is also dead serious of course. This is more of the gathering's remarkable music, evolutionarily modern, a superb outcropping of where things have been going in the realm of advanced "jazz."

That's a truth I feel and I am happy to express it. If this album sells--and of course I wish it does--it is nothing to do with controversy. It is for the excellence of the music. It's here to hear, so give it your ear.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Grand Fatilla, Global Shuffle

Grand Fatilla is a quartet the likes of which you've never quite heard before. On their Global Shuffle (Grand Fatilla Records) they create a kind of pan-world music that takes on convincingly Greek, Italian, Baltic, Mideastern, South Asian, Northern African and Brazilian elements combined for a virtuoso, odd-tempoed, very swinging set of pieces.

The musicianship is strong. Grand Fatilla is Roberto Cassan on accordion, Matt Glover on electric mandolin, Fabio Pirozzolo on percussion and vocals and Mike Rivard on double bass and sintir. They take on originals, traditional melodies, a piece by Piazzolla, and a couple by Hermeto Pascoal, including a very nice arrangement of the seminal "Little Church," which some will remember from a version on Miles Davis' Live-Evil.

This is rousing virtuoso "world" music in a progressive mode. Accordion and mandolin get some finger twisting lines that take the breath away. But it's all good. It reminds you that fusion bands did not invent the asymmetrical strings of quick, complicated line-weaving. But then these folks are like a chamber world-fusion outfit, too. So it all comes together.

If you are into a lively adventure about what a group of talented instrumentalists can make of the world, this one will get to you and fast! Very recommended.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Guitar Trio E, Goodbye Watson

Bob Gorry, guitarist, conceptualist, composer, the inspiration behind the NHIC (New Haven Improvisers Collective), is many things. He and electric guitarists Jeff Cedrone and Chris Cretella make up Guitar Trio E, a freewheeling DIY offshoot of the larger NHIC. They have an album out that, in the best way, will provoke you into taking a stance. About music, free music, about what it is and where it can go.

Their album Goodbye Watson (NHIC 008) does that by presenting a series of compositional frameworks, one by each member, except Gorry gives us two, and one collective work.

The framework for each varies. It is some compositional melodic-rhythmic series of things around which the trio spins a series of free-collective improvisations. Other than Captain Beefheart or Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists, there isn't much to compare this music with. It does not use either "free jazz" or "new music-free improv" vocabulary per se but like the larger NHIC has a kind of intuitive language it has forged in the sheer act of creation over time.

The players are capable, have internalized some of the electricity of rock which they give back in distilled form, but beyond that this music is radically divorced from various "schools" out there.

The frameworks set things up and have their own cohesive sensibilities. The improvs are a sort of art brut, a well-developed contemporary take on what you might get if you forget what is expected and after long periods of playing together, develop a unique way.

This one shows how Gorry and company can come up with a sort of local music that continues to grow and get a certain refinement without a lot of the outside world intruding on it.

That's fabulous and can most definitely invigorate. It's at times dissonant or oblivious of typical tone choices expected, but in the process is patterned no less than any "tradition" of avant music has been. It's different!

If you don't know Gorry and company and their work, this is a good place to start, especially if the idea of chamber music for three electric guitars appeals to you. It's an excellent example of where they are coming from!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Ian Hunter, Strings Attached, Live 2002

As a young lad teen I appreciated Mott the Hoople when they came out. When Ian Hunter went solo I was distracted by other music and only came to it a few years later. Even today, though, there is something about him I like. It's his way with a rough voice, his sincerity, good songs.

So when his 2-CD set from a concert in 2002 arrived at my doorstep, I was pleased. After a bunch of listens my anticipation was rewarded. Strings Attached (MIG 23370 2-CD) has Ian in full bloom, singing old and newer songs, backed by a good band and strings, live at Oslo's Bentrum Scene.

You get "All the Young Dudes" and "All the Way from Memphis" but then the newer songs, too. The strings add something most definite. Ian strums along and gives us his voice as it was meant to be heard. Dylanesque in its rawness but very English and no pretension.

If you dig Ian Hunter this will float your boat. It's a good night and has great sound! What more?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Garden Music Project, Inspired by Syd Barrett's Artwork

Today, something else retro-futuristic. Syd Barrett of course was the critical guiding muse behind the original Pink Floyd sound. When he left the band nothing was quite the same, yet he still inspired the direction they ultimately took, as he inspired the avant psychedelic rock that came after. He remains a vital influence today in progressive circles.

Adriana Rubio took 12 artworks done by Syd in his lifetime. She got a good idea of writing music that took some of the essence of those visual creations. She came up with 12 songs for the 12 works. She enlisted four together musicians to realize those sounds. We have the results today in the Garden Music Project (A R Garden ARG01).

This is music that of course is very informed by Syd's psychedelic rock music yet does not imitate as much as goes into a similar retro-futurist space.

So it's a rock quartet with guitar, keys, bass (doubling on sax) and drums, plus vocals and arranged extras. The music rings true as a well-put-together new trip into the psychedelic renaissance. It's certainly a parallel to the classic works but something new in the style.

If you don't expect a literal Pink Floyd-Barrett rehash you will approach this new music on its own terms. And I venture to say you won't be disappointed! It's good.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Swung, Vol. 1 & 2, Bobby Jacobs, Pierre van der Linden, Niels van der Steenhoven, Menno Gootjes

When the music is very much grooving, who can resist? Not me. Swung Vol. 1 & 2 (In and Out of Focus 002CD) has that. It's a Northern European psychedelic rock fuse jazz power trio in two incarnations. Bobby Jacobs on electric bass seems to be in charge and he sets up some really nice jams with his very coherent playing. Pierre van der Linden is on drums, very hip in that advanced rock mode. And for the two CDs we have a different guitarist on each: Niels van der Steenhoven for Volume 1; Menno Gootjes for Volume 2. Both are very good. To me the slight edge goes to Gootjes, mostly because he reminds me of Terje Rypdal a bit, though in his own way.

So we get nine jams on Vol. 1, eight on Vol. 2. There are some simple but very effective compositional elements here and there. A bass riff or that and a guitar line. The emphasis is on spontaneous creativity and drive. And they get to it!

Bobby's bass playing is impressive. But van der Linden plays some excellent drums. And both guitarists have definite torque.

Now this is what jambands should be, but many times are not. Anyone who gets off on advanced rocking with a very together forward future-retro heft, this one will floor you!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Lucky Peterson, I'm Back Again

Take a groovy, very together, rocking blues outfit and then drop guitarist-singer Lucky Peterson in as the front man, get them live on stage and you really have something if the night is right. That's what you get on Lucky Peterson's album I'm Back Again (Music Blues 250357),

Lucky has the vocal soul of the very best, a gospel-tinged readiness to belt out the lines with all the detail of a master. He plays some damned fine guitar and doubles on Hammond very credibly, too.

And this album has that special live togetherness that the best blues artists have--the ability to get an audience totally into his court. And he does just that here.

This is the rocking blues with a heavy dose of soul. He has a guitar style that screams, cries, and bends with the best of them. And it's no accident that he quotes Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" and "Third Stone from the Sun" towards the end of the concert, because his electricity is informed by that sound at times, but always firmly with the blues kind of testifying.

This one is a hoot. 100% soul from a master.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Keith Emerson & Greg Lake, Live From Manticore Hall

It may be patently obvious for those who know, but both Greg Lake and Keith Emerson have been seminal figures in the development of progressive rock. Greg Lake has been a stage-setter with his sterling vocal style, a bassist of impact, both as an original member of King Crimson and then of course as a key part of ELP. Keith Emerson did for the keys what Greg did for vocals, first with Nice and then with ELP.

And it was as much in the quality of their songwriting as in the sound they got. So when Palmer went his own way Keith and Greg teamed up as a duo. You can hear the fine results in Live from Manticore Hall (Manticore 001), which features many of their well-known songs arranged in a series of intimate remakes on this record. They are joined by a drummer for part of the proceedings. He sounds fine but gets no credit on the liners.

At any rate we get some of the best vintage material from the first few ELP albums, a remake of the King Crimson perennial "I Talk to the Wind" and some later material, too.

The versions differ from the originals most of the time by the more intimate retrospective mood that the concert revels in. "From the Beginning," "The Barbarian," "Take a Pebble," "Tarkus" and "Lucky Man" all sound very good. The latter tune finds Keith unearthing the original Moog from that first ELP record and giving us a remade retro sound that is good to hear.

Greg's voice is in very strong form, his bass and Keith's keys are right on. Anyone who grew up with this music will appreciate the new versions. Those who haven't can discover the music here as well. It may be a guilty pleasure these days, but I'll admit this music still appeals. Perhaps there were excesses in prog that led to a punk rebellion, and ELP sometimes overdid it towards the end of their reign. But the best is still exceptional. You can hear that in this concert.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Andrew Downing, Jim Lewis, David Occhipinti, Bristles

As I started out primarily as a drummer in my youth, I do remember the time when virtually every jazz album employed a drummer, except notably the Jimmy Giuffre Trio sides. Then by the early '70s drummerless groups became more and more common, and I adjusted to it, in part by paying more attention to the other instruments I played but also by appreciating the kind of interaction a drummerless ensemble can give.

So today's group does not surprise in its instrumentation of double bass, electric guitar and trumpet as it once might have. But it does give us a very open chamber sound that allows for a good deal of spontaneous interaction without the necessity of pulse or bar lines, though there are times when the music has a definite rhythmic pulse.

I didn't know this trio up until now. They seem to hail from Canada. It consists of David Occhipinti on electric guitar, Andrew Downing on bass and Jim Lewis on trumpet. The album in question is called Bristles (Occdav OM007).

The reference in the title is to modern art. The program alternates between fresh trio versions of standards and freewheeling tributes to modern artist-painters, such as Pollack, Twombly, Klee, Kandinsky, etc.

This alternating program gives us something different. The chamber-style standard coverage has a quirky feel often enough, such as "Once I Loved," which starts with a guitar feedback chord over which the trumpet states the theme. The artist tribute numbers are in a varied and interesting free-abstract mode.

All three are very capable players who bring to us a group dynamic that is nothing short of original. They make full use of their intimate threefold presence and there is solo space for all, which they use wisely.

I come out of the listens with a real appreciation for what the trio is up to. Well done!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cumbia All-Stars, Tigres en Fuga

So today we travel a span of aural distance for some infectious contemporary cumbia music, a venerable Latin dance style with vibrant rhythm. The Cumbia All-Stars give us a contemporary slant on Cumbia Peruana sounds in their album Tigres en Fuga (World Village 450028).

It has the rhythmic vibrancy you expect, solid lead and call-and-response vocals, tunes that hit home, and perhaps most interestingly, a very guitar-centric approach. The lead and rhythm guitars are very outfront in a kind of Afro-meets-Santana hipness, meaning that the guitar work reminds slightly of the highlife-and-beyond African electric guitar tradition, is within the Latin tradition, yet has at times an almost rock feel as well.

Mind you this is not some kind of cumbia metal. The cumbia feel is always at the forefront. Yet the band sounds both magnetic and of today.

Guitar lovers will find this album most interesting, for the lead guitarist is good and very fluent. Yet the groove will grab you at the same time.

Bravo! Listen and enjoy!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Dave Specter, Message in Blue

Dave Specter has a bunch of albums out but for some reason I have not heard them. That all is remedied with his latest, Message in Blue (Delmark 836). He heads a unit that does the soul blues in the best Chicago style, which means there are horns, electricity and grooves in no small supply.

I am somehow reminded of classic Paul Butterfield in the cohesiveness of the band, the dynamic presence of Specter's very excellent blues guitar stylizing and the electricity of it all. Now I am not saying Dave sounds like Bloomfield or Bishop, but he has his own way that goes far to parallel the noteful excellence of those players, but with his own reverb-drenched power.

Brother John Kaatke on keyboards is central and does some excellent vocalizing, as does Otis Clay.

The tunes stay with you and grow in your head, with a few classics and some new ones by Dave, all good.

This is contemporary Chicago Blues in the capital "B" sense, with authentic drive and a relation to past greats. I am digging the album very much. I can't see how a few spins won't find you there, too, if the blues is important to you!