Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I Never Meta Guitar Three, Solo Guitars for the 21st Century, Produced by Elliott Sharp

The avant guitar solo scene these days is eclectic and all-encompassing, as electric and soulful as Hendrix, as painstaking new-sound oriented as Derek Bailey, as focused and single-minded as Elliott Sharp. All this we can experience in I Never Meta Guitar Three (Clean Feed CFG 007), the Elliott Sharp produced-curated anthology of solo guitar in its third volume. The third takes up where volumes one and two leave off, with a new crew of guitarists; some who follow such things will perhaps recognize many names, others perhaps will be unfamiliar to many.

We get highly electric or acoustically particular solos from the likes of John King, Indigo Street, Joel Peterson, Kirsten Carey, Cristian Amigo, Adam Brisbin, Sandy Ewen, Anders Nilsson, Peter Maunu, Bruce Eisenbeil, Simone Massaron, Lily Maase, David Fulton, Jim McCauley, Angela Babin, Brandon Seabrook, Alessandra Novago and Ed Ricart.

There are too many examples to cover individually here. Suffice to say that they all share a dedication to extending the sound color range and technical possibilities of the guitar today, from myriads of electrical transformations from effects and wattage to micro-tonalities and colors obtained via extended ways of sounding the strings.

It is another fascinating jaunt into the possibilities out there today. Anyone concerned with the guitar as a medium of new music sounds should explore this anthology. Even the merely curious will be rewarded with much to contemplate and appreciate on repeated listenings. This is what's happening NOW!

Monday, March 30, 2015

THEO, The Game of Ouroboros

If new prog floats your boat--especially something that does not look back so much as plows a new field out of post-new-wave--you should listen to THEO and their The Game of Ouroboros (BIGO2422/GENPRCD007). It is a band with good songs, pristine musicianship, and a very contemporary feel, especially in dealing with the automated realworld 1984 zone we live in.

The guitarist and keyboardist are very much a factor here, but the entire band comes at you in arranged flourishes that are not tacked-on to songs as much as they organically grow out of them. The vocals are strong, the music equally so. It is a band with rock torque that remains alive, contemporary yet still hard hitting.

The lyrics stand up to scrutiny in what they say about living in this world right now, yet the music carries you forward at the same time.

It is an album of real importance, I think. These guys do not have a single cliche in their bodies, so what we get is something truly new and quite innovative. The prog zone is not dead! THEO gives it new life.

Hear it repeatedly and you'll be there, too.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Benjamin Duboc, Alexandra Grimal, le retour d'Ulysse

Synchrony works in unpredictable ways. No sooner have I appreciated soprano-tenor voice Alexandra Grimal on a duet album for Ayler Records (see Gapplegate Music Review article published this month) than she is back again very prominently and nicely, in duet with avant bass-master Benjamin Duboc, on a two-cd set le retour d'Ulysse (Improvising Beings ib32).

This outing has the free jazz element out front, with plenty of space for both players in tandem and in themselves. I've been digging Benjamin Duboc for a while now--and you may note I named his solo album the bass offering of the year last December (see December 2014 listings). Alexandra I am really getting into as well now. The pairing of the two is good for them both and good for us, the listeners.

They give us a full-blown free program with the accent on spontaneous combustion. Both are hearing and playing with close focus and the results are rather magical. It's primo, no bs jazz declamation.

And for that it is exemplary for what a reedwoman and a bassist can do when let loose. Alexandra has arrived. Benjamin sets a place beside himself and they dig in with gusto!

Highly recommended.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Barry Guy, Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett, EP LP

Anyone who knows the scene knows that Barry Guy is one of the very foremost bass artists on the contemporary avant improv jazz horizon. He has been for years. No one can touch his sound footprint, whether bowing, pizzicato or utilizing a mix of sound production techniques.

A solo EP LP is available by Barry, called Five Fizzles for Samuel Beckett (No Business EP 02). It was recorded in an ambient cathedral in 2009. The five improvised movements show an extroverted Barry pulling out all his resourceful creative sound-producing abilities. Harmonics, a sort of rattling ambience, smears of multi-articulated sonics, playing below the bridge, you-name-it, he goes there in effective artistic ways. Even just Barry doing pizz gives you his signature, but he is everywhere on this one.

He pulls it all together in a 15-20 minute tribute to the great 20th-century writer.

If you have even the slightest interest in the avant contrabass you will find this one rewarding and satisfying. It is indispensable listening. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Junior Wells, Southside Blues Jam, with Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, Louis Myers

When one of the very greatest Chicago blues recordings arrives at your door, and you already know that because you had the LP, it is cause for joy.

I refer to Junior Wells and his album Southside Blues Jam (Delmark 628). Junior was an artist who had major label exposure by the time he waxed these sides in Delmark's studio in 1969-70. The big labels expected some blues "product" and chart success. Delmark was glad to record him again, because they dug him. They liked it when has was doing the blues the way he'd do it at the Southside clubs, raw, soulful, every song a story that is meant to communicate right to YOU. There is Junior on vocals and harp, the two-guitar punch of Buddy Guy and Louis Myers, the piano of Otis Spann, Earnest Johnson on bass and Fred Below on drums.

The CD has alternate takes and extra cuts, and they all add to the cumulative impact of this direct assault on your blues soul. Junior is inspired and very loose, Buddy and Otis and the rest are totally there commenting and participating musically and otherwise, and damn if this isn't music that still sounds just as great, just as true, just as real and just as blue as it ever did.

The blues will never die when there's trouble in your life. I listen now after losing one of my best friends a week ago. He loved this album and his troubles did not last always, because, hey, sometimes you just die. That's the truth of the blues, that it might get better but in the end there is an end to it. Sometimes you are gonna be "walkin' from the bottom of the floor," as Junior sings it. Sometimes you aren't wanted in the very neighborhood you call home. And what do you do? You give out with every drop of feeling in concentrated blues form. And you tell that "old man" Mayor Daily he needs to KNOW about the blues. Yeah. He did.

That is what this is. It is so honest and true that it hits you like a Mack truck. Otis and Buddy pour it on and Junior gets truly worked up into a frenzied passion. You don't imitate this because this is IT. This is the thing that cannot be made into product. Because it's so damned real.

Just get it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Paul Elwood, Nice Folks

What a world we live in today, musically. Literally anything can be combined and is. And sometimes that combination is so successful as to take you very much by surprise, even by shock. Take Paul Elwood's Nice Folks (Innova 903). It is the sort of thing you first put on and the eyebrows start going up. After a while you are mumbling, WTF?! Or at least that was my reaction.

Paul Elwood wrote and arranged most of the music. He plays the five-string banjo and does it well. Neither like Bela Fleck on one end of things or Brandon Seabrook on the avant side, Paul goes his own way, having absorbed old-style playing as well as Scruggs claw-hammer picking style. He can take it way out or go string band traditional and all in the context of a large ensemble and vocal group. The Art Ensemble's Famoudou Don Moye is the drummer here and he is perfect. He KNOWs how to go everywhere at once and so is ready for the everything that comes, and he does his usual wonderful job putting something very Famoudou into the mix.

Paul and Kelsey Shiba are the principal vocalists. The band is eight people, Paul and Don, electric guitar, trombone, reeds and so forth. The band goes everywhere from string band to rock to avant jazz to old timey jazz, sometimes all at once.

And it works! It really does. There is a humor and seriousness that makes everything pop. And even if you weren't ready for this, you give it a chance and, wow, this is a real-deal hybrid that is bizarre but seriously good!

I am in awe. But you'd have to listen a few times with open ears and you'd get what I am getting. I can't give you more words because the telling is in the sound! Whew!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Grip Weeds, How I Won the War

There are bands out there today, some very good, that somehow channel early psychedelia-song form and make it new. The Grip Weeds are one. Their album How I Won the War (Jem MVD7134A) shows you how.

They have that two-guitars, bass and drums heated proficiency, good tunes and vocals that are there. They do a good job with George's "The Inner Light," which is not easy to do w/o the Indian instruments. And their own songs have something to them that makes you glad they are around.

I won't say they sound like anybody in particular--they sound like everybody back then only they don't. And they are very well rehearsed. The Smithereens might come to mind as far as good things done well go.

If you like that kind of thing--like I do--then this one will give you definite kicks!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sour Grapes, Jeff Platz, Jim Hobbs, Luther Gray, Timo Shanko

Some albums get heard once, I listen and know they are "good," I file them in sequence for further listening and review and then subject myself to further bombardment from 100s of albums until it is time for the more detailed listens and review. It is sometimes in that final phase that I realize that "good" is really very good indeed. Such a sleeper I post on today. In the final phase of listening I came to appreciate the music much more greatly than on initial hearing. That is the album Sour Grapes (Glitch 003) a Boston session featuring Jeff Platz, Jim Hobbs, Luther Gray and Timo Shanko.

It is a rough-and-tumble quartet of real strength. Jeff Platz is on electric guitar, Jim Hobbs plays alto, Luther Gray does the drumming and Timo Shanko is on electric bass.

This is open-form freedom of a very electric avant jazz-rock sort. Everybody works together here to come up with exceptional sound mixes that are more than a sum of the parts, though the parts themselves are no joke either.

Bassist Timo makes a big contribution to the sound with both a rhythm anchorage and as a colorist-soloist in the mix. He blends very well with the outstanding guitar outness of Jeff Platz, who is all over the place with very outside hipness that has percussive crack as well as a fine way with a line and harmonic good avant sense. Jeff comes through monstrously well. Jim Hobbs on alto gets some scorching work into the four-way. And Luther Gray outdoes himself spanning the space between rocking, swinging and bash freedom--and that is perfect for what is needed.

I can't begin to describe this music--except to say it is very much a situation where all four are mutually attuned and say something strong, strongly electric, strongly outside, strongly fired up, yet at times too, very subtle.

Guitarists and bassists need to hear these two stringers work together, but it is a quartet where everybody puts in the smarts, their creativity and their free-spirit muses.

If you respond to creative electric outness you should not miss this one. Whooo!

And so the end of the week is here. I hope to return with my blogs Monday but I may be forced to exit the stage for a while. The posts are all going to stay up but my fate is unclear. Live well, fare well, and prosper. And RIP Mr. Spock.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Milford Graves & Bill Laswell, Space / Time Redemption

Any two accomplished artists with an open-form approach should be able to get together and make significant music. It gets more involved and harder as you add more and more players, maybe, but two should get something good together without necessarily doing an extensive working-through. That sometimes that doesn't work out is a product of almost infinite possibilities, the one central one perhaps is that it's just not a good day for one or both.

That certainly isn't the case with the confluence of two masters, Milford Graves & Bill Laswell, and their album Space / Time Redemption (TUM 040). It is an interesting pairing on many fronts anyway. Milford Graves is one of the avant-free innovators of our time. Ever since his pairing up with ESP new thing ensembles and his seminal duo with percussionist Sonny Morgan for that label he has stood out as one of the most inventive creative free drummers alive. Bill Laswell comes out of a more electric environment, but he too has given voice to the electric bass as distinctively in his own way as Milford has recreated for himself the orchestral drum kit. Laswell's work with Material and you-name-it has established him as a voice, an electric bassist with his own sure way.

So it turns out that Space / Time Redemption is an especially fruitful pairing. Milford always comes through with very creative, very musical, very original drumming and he sounds better than ever on this one. There is the way he phrases that comes at you in such an open yet deliberate way that anyone playing within his orbit can be sure that what they do will meet with a musical response. Bill Laswell is the kind of bass player who with his deeply evocative sound born of attack and electricity sounds completely sufficient and full as the only strictly melodic instrument on a date like this. The space he has to work within he uses in the most musical and impressively articulate ways.

Master of percussive sound Graves is not to be missed here. He opens up a rhythmic and melodic space as only he can, never fast for its own sake or bashing for its own sake, but always very controlled in sound and attack, always lyrically forceful in that special fanfarish style of his. Laswell responds with the full spectrum of single noting, octave and chordal multi-stops, harmonics and a musical logic that meshes especially well with what Milford does.

Two masters in top form. They never sound undirected or uninspired. They give us an open-ended inventiveness that has focus from start to finish. Excellent! This is a must for those who are students of new electric bass styles and drum freedom mastery. And it is a gas to listen to!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dewa Budjana, Hasta Karma

Indonesian guitar phenom Dewa Budjana launches off to a wonderful place on his latest album, Hasta Karma (MoonJune 070). It may well be his finest yet. The compositions ring out memorably, all penned by Dewa. And the band is an excellent one: Dewa of course on electric guitar, vet ace Joe Locke on vibes, Ben Williams on upright bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, and special guest Indra Lesmana on keys for most of the album.

This is heady fusion with excellent arrangements, solo space for Locke that gives the trajectory dynamic spacing, a kicking performance from rhythm teammates Williams and Sanchez, and...

Dewa pulls out all the stops for a spectacular guitar performance. He handles lead melody with a beautiful sound, then launches into improvisations that show his maturity as a real-deal stylist at the top of his game. He has chops galore but uses them to shape solos that have some relationship to his Indonesian roots but also the completely internalized fusion guitar tradition as it stands today, refashioned and transformed into his very own thing. His sound projects wonderfully and the choice of notes are simultaneously sophisticated, lyrical and wailing, mostly all at the same time.

Well boys and girls, I do suggest you get this one for seminal modern fusion. Dewa is becoming a master.

Circumstances beyond my control may force me to stop my blogs dead in their tracks, and that in a very short time, though they will remain up here on blogspot regardless. I hope not but in case that is so I wish you all the very best. May you fare well. May the music of humanity inspire you to a higher realm. I will see you tomorrow I suspect. After that I will try to come back as quickly as I can. May the great spirit walk with you on your path through the rest of your life. I thank you for traveling part of that with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Luis Lopes Lisbon Berlin Trio, The Line

Luis Lopes is one of the most exciting, original avant electric guitarists to emerge from the European scene in recent years. His work with the Gonzalez family and on his own (reviewed here and on the Gapplegate Music Blog, type in search boxes for specific reviews) has shown him at the forefront of all-over avant noise-and-note players today.

Now he comes at us with the (I believe) second recording of his Lisbon Berlin Trio on a recent album called The Line (Clean Feed 312). It brings Luis together again with two excellent open improv players in Robert Landfermann on acoustic bass and Christian Lillinger on drums. Robert amplifies and at times distorts his bass so that the three make some supercharged free almost-metal sounds.

This is a 30-some-odd minute EP that goes pretty thoroughly over-the-top with go-for-bust barrages of free sounds. Luis is very amplified and uses all the resources of the overdriven guitar to create a post-Sharrockian landscape of feedback, on- and off-the-string sound colors and dynamic displays of outside virtuosity. Robert seconds him with bowed and pizzicato distortions and harmonics that create a very dense thicket of excitement. Christian is a whirlwind of aggressive sound outside of a set pulse. There are more quiet moments too, which are no less interesting to hear. And the sum total shows us a very creative Lopes who can construct challenging melodically-harmonically out line weaving as well as vivid noise color.

The three together make an extreme cacophony that is as exhilarating to hear as it is enveloping of all your musical senses.

A terrific blast of sound! If you revel on the fringes of the outside realm, this one is definitely for you. Excellent!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, Epicenter

Jazz-rock fusion has many variations in style these days. A smart and hip variant certainly can be found in bassist-composer-bandleader Chris Lightcap and his band Bigmouth in their new one, Epicenter (Clean Feed 315).

Chris does all the arrangements and compositions, save a very cool version of Lou Reed's Nico/Velvet vehicle "All Tomorrow's Parties." Chris is at the bass, Craig Taborn does the keys, Gerald Cleaver puts out on the drums and the twin tenors of Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek give a critical flourish and presence to the sound.

This is modern music, open yet very structured, with some very exemplary sort of odd-phrased compositional elements and well-thought-out arrangements. Chris is very much an anchor on bass as well as a soloist to hear, and Taborn, Malaby and Cheek give you considerable additional improvisational clout.

All that stands out as a sort of breakthrough of "serious" jazz composition that has swinging and rocking elements and space for the prowess of this fine band.

After a few listens you get a very strong feeling of originality and first-rate blowing, compositional vibrancy and general hitting-it togetherness.

It's one that will stay in your head long after you've heard it, once you give it a few spins to get acclimated.

A breakthrough album for Bigmouth! Strongly recommended!

Friday, March 6, 2015

George Van Eps, Once in Awhile, with Eddie Miller and Stanley Wrightsman

Every so often you catch up with a player who you never paid much attention to but it turns out is very worth hearing. Such a one turns out to be George Van Eps, a guitarist of the swing era who favored the chordal style of soloing. A reissue of the sides he made for Jump in 1946 and 1949, Once in Awhile (Jump 12-06, Delmark), turns out to be a real winner, both for Van Eps' tasteful guitar and his swinging sidemen.

With him throughout is the relatively unsung tenor saxist Eddie Miller, who sounds pretty great here, a kind of cross between Lester Young and Bud Freeman. Then there's the totally unsung pianist Stanley Wrightsman, who plays swingingly in a more-or-less Teddy Wilson bag.

Including alternate takes there are 25 selections on the reissue. A bass player joins the trio for a couple of numbers, a drummer for a couple, but mostly it's just the trio. You get a close look at the Van Eps style, which is quite involved and great to hear. And I must say Eddie Miller holds my interest too with his odd combination of vibrato and straightforward Lester-like purity. Wrightsman is nothing to sneeze at either.

The three combined give you some very classic sounding swing. This is music that delights from a guitarist you can learn much from. It makes me smile, the whole thing.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nick Millevoi and Dead Neanderthals, Dietary Restrictions

Until now I did not know Dead Neanderthals, a Dutch free jazz duo of Otto Kokkee on sax and Rene Aquarius on drums. Guitarist Nick Millevoi I most certainly do know, a free electric guitarist who does well by reveling in skronky anarchy. Type his name in the search box above for what I have reviewed of his here.

The three did a European tour in 2013. They are captured live in DIY sound in Berlin on the EP Dietary Restrictions, which was available as a cassette that is apparently sold out, but you can get a DL at Bandcamp.

This is full-out free anarchy with honks, squeals, tumbling drums, feedback and super-skronk guitar aggression. It may give some folks a headache. But if you are like me it is an out extreme you can very much appreciate if you put yourself in the mood.

There's 30 minutes of grand intensity here, just enough for the hard-core enthusiast to bang the head with.

It's not for the timid ear! But it IS very over-the-top in a nice way.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chuck Berry, The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs, 1955-61

Anybody who knows the history of rock knows how central Chuck Berry was in the development of the music. And in the beginning, it was the singles that people heard. They remain central to an appreciation of his art and the impact it had, both in the US and in England.

So the new, specially priced 2-CD set, The Complete Chess Singles As & Bs, 1955-61 (Acrobat Music 3122), is especially important and revealing. You get the big hits "Maybelline," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music" and such, but you get B-Side gems like "Reelin' and Rockin'," "Around and Around," and "Memphis, Tennessee." There are blues and r&b numbers, guitar instrumentals, and a few minor things that remain fascinating. Back then the rock listeners were far more likely to purchase 45-rpm singles than albums. This is what they heard.

And if you know the British Invasion and what the Stones and Beatles (along with others) did to revive Chuck's stature after his prison experiences and the temper of the time began to favor white crooners and less vital pop, you get a bird's eye (or rather ear) view of the music that the next generation of rockers had imbibed. It's incredible just how many of the songs on this set were covered by rock bands in the '60s. I can count much more than half. And rather than the Pat Boone insipid lameness that white '50s covers of things like "Tutti Frutti" entailed, the British and American bands covered Berry with a mostly real understanding and fire, so that his career took off anew and his reputation grew to a new peak that never diminished.

So to hear these original tracks now is crucial to an understanding of it all and how revolutionary was his sound. Of course the guitar style he introduced became fundamental. He combined blues guitar with r&b shadings and came up with his very own way. Listen to it develop as the chronological sequence of the tracks nicely allow. His vocals were just as important. His occasional near rap rapid signifying patter hit the music world like a storm. And he had real soul that along with Little Richard set the vocal pace for what was to come. Listen to to the bands here. The original sides sound a bit sparse and open with Willie Dixon's upright bass, cats like Otis Spann playing a LOT of piano and Fred Below slapping a back beat that left no doubt where the rocking was going. By the later years of this period, there was a fuller sound that often included rhythm guitar and electric bass. Of course that sound carried over into rock afterwards, but the early sound had bluesier roots, a feel that Chess sides generally favored in the early days.

In all this is an essential document for all rock-rooted students. You can learn much from Chuck's guitar playing, the sound of the bands and of course his classic songs and vocals. The digital transfers sound good, so there's no reason to hesitate on this one. Essential.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Soft Machine, Switzerland 1974, with Allan Holdsworth

The legendary Soft Machine could hardly be said to have gone "soft" by 1973. Quite the contrary. Yet when guitarist Allan Holdsworth joined the band that year it gave the group a big boost and added a decidedly articulate new voice into the mix. They had up until then managed to carve a most distinctive sound by placing keyboard wizard Mike Ratledge into at times the role of the guitar soloist in the band and it worked very well indeed. Yet after seven albums and a great deal of wonderful music, there was a point where someone of the extraordinary caliber of Holdsworth, a one-in-a-million guitarist of genius, would give the band another sound shading and provide some new life. So they were fortunate that Allan was available and set about creating a new repertoire, much of which was included in their eighth album Bundles, another milestone recording for the Softs that was timely and of course well-received.

In the band at the time was Mike Ratledge, the only remaining original member, along with piano-saxman Karl Jenkins, bassist Roy Babbington and the potent John Marshall on drums. In tandem with Holdsworth they had a great deal of depth and versatility. Bundles showed that very much.

Now we have the treat of hearing the band live at Montreux, on the previously unreleased Switzerland 1974 (Cuneiform Rune 395/396) in a combo CD and DVD package.

The sound is pristine, the music complex and energized, and Holdsworth most definitely at his best. What's fascinating is that Allan had very much the fleet facility of his mature days, yet his sound is rather different, not as violin-like as in later years. That gives you another take on what he is playing and no the less interesting for it.

The music has it all and the band by then was in top form.

Of course you should have Bundles if you are a serious student of jazz-rock and fusion. But this live date has the spontaneous looseness and fire you get less of in the studio. The rhythm section kicks it hard, Ratledge and Babbington weave magic, and Allan Holdsworth gives notice to the world that he is a world-class player.

Very much recommended!

Copy this url into your browser to stream a nice excerpt: https://cuneiformrecords.bandcamp.com/album/switzerland-1974

Monday, March 2, 2015

Jim Hall, It's Nice To Be With You, Jim Hall in Berlin, Reissue, 1969

Jim Hall in some ways resembles Bill Evans. An uncritical ear may at first miss what is exceptional in his playing, because strictly surface-wise it all "sounds nice." In my early years of listening to much strident and heavy music and its association with my generation and outlook, I associated "nice" with my father's era and for a time missed some of the more subtle players. Not for years, but then.

Jim Hall's guitar playing is a special thing. Yes it is often quiet and harmonically pleasant. But then you start to get what's going on underneath the surface. That's true of the welcome reissue of It's Nice to Be with You, Jim Hall in Berlin (MPS 0209730) the first in what I hope are many rounds of MPS reissues. This one incredibly was only his second solo release at the time. There were far more later. Nonetheless it goes some way in reminding those now and then of the real artistry of his electric guitar style.

The premises are straightforward: Jim and his electric guitar by itself (overdubbed for harmony and lead parts) and Jim with a good trio of Jimmy Woode on bass and Daniel Humair, drums. They cover three Hall originals, some standards and the pop hit of the time "Up, Up and Away."

The subtle mastery of Hall is very much out front; beautifully singular voicings and very inventive line weaving are the order of the day. And that special soft sound.

It is a treasure of guitar sublimity. But that was Jim on most occasions. It is great to have this out again. I don't remember seeing this at record shops in the States then, so it is doubly good to have it readily available now. Jim was one of the greats. He shows us why here.