Thursday, April 30, 2015

Andrew DiRuzza Quintet, Shapes and Analogies

There are so many good contemporary jazz outfits out there that it is a little mind-boggling to keep track. Not all of them come off with originality, though, so there can be a tendency for much of it to blend together in my head if I hear too many with a sort of common denominator approach. That is certainly not the case with guitarist Andrew DiRuzza and his quintet, as heard on their album Shapes and Analogies (self released).

The first thing that hit me listening was the quality of Andrew DiRuzza's tunes. They are harmonically swirling, very noteful in ways that have something of the unexpected in them. And that thoughtful creative line-spinning is very much a part of DiRuzza's solo style as well.

The band is very solid. DiRuzza guitar is a major factor, but there are very good contributions from Robert Espe on tenor, Michael Jarvey on piano and keys, Blake Shaw on bass and Marcelo Cardoso on drums. They negotiate DiRuzza's changes with imagination and bring the rhythmically churning swing to bear for a progressively convincing impact.

Espe's tenor and Jarvey's piano have nicely realized solo spots that are good expositions in themselves. It is DiRuzza's guitar work, though, that especially stands out. The lines motor forward fluidly and swingingly. But the note choices stand out as something original and very much of interest. He is a stylist in his own right.

The combination of compositional and guitar-improvisational lines work together to leave a definite impression. It is music that is something beyond mainstream yet in a changes-oriented framework. For that it is not predictable and in the end very rewarding to hear. The music stays in your head. DiRuzza is a soloist of stature and a composer of some very hip music. What better? I recommend you hear this one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mark Wade Trio, Event Horizon

Bassist Mark Wade has a good thing going with his group and the album Event Horizon (self released). It's a piano trio with the well integrated threesomeness of Mark with a very inventive post-Eddie-Gomez bass lucidity, Tim Harrison with a harmonically informed lyrical post-Evans-and-beyond modern piano jazz style, and Scott Neumann giving us some engaging subtly and lucidly swinging drums.

All the pieces here are originals save one. I assume they are by Wade but they may also involve some collaboration? The exception is a surprisingly hip and swinging version of "If I Only Had A Brain" from the Wizard of Oz.

This is in the best tradition of the modern piano trio a fully three-way affair. Everybody contributes fully to the very nice end result. The music encompasses the richly complex musical matrices of modern jazz trios from Evans through Tyner and beyond.

There's plenty of excellent bass playing here to satisfy the bass-minded. But everybody comes together for a trio date that has much to like about it. It is mainstream but not at all formulaic, so that it all sounds very fresh.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Peter Oldrup, Guitar Debut

Guitarist Peter Oldrup impressed me last year (October 13 posting, to be precise) for his fine work as a member of the Duo Oldrup/Lauridsen and their recorder-guitar tandem performing contemporary classical works on the album Eyktime. See the post on my Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review blog at

He returns today in a classical guitar recital called Guitar Debut (Gateway DUOL 002). On it we get his considered and sensitive readings of Bach, Britten and some very contemporary solo guitar music from William Lovelady and Tan Tuan Hao. The varied program shows the versatility and poetic artistry of Oldrup in contrasting guises.

J.S. Bach's "Chaconne fra BMV 1004" begins the program and gives us the classicist Oldrup, with a hint of rubato and a beautiful charm. William Lovelady's "The White Stone" follows, with a quiet, lyrical reverie that allows Oldrup to bring out the lovely melodic strains and give the complimenting accompanying figures a second sound dimension through dynamics and touch. The intricate passages of melody and figurework come off with a distinctively poetic clarity.

Tan Tuao Han's "Through the Fences, The Light Falls" has dramatic dynamic timbral contrasts and an alternatingly introspective and volcanic quality that Oldrup realizes with artistic flair. This is a tour de force work with a performance that furthers the music and brings it all together majestically.

The Benjamin Britten "Nocturnal after John Dowland" has some of the melancholic feeling and the melodic brilliance of the lute master with Britten's unsurpassed mood-color writing. Peter brings out both qualities with just the right balance. It is a great version and I am glad to have it to hear over and over, but that is true of the CD from start to finish.

Peter Oldrup is a true artist. These are performances to appreciate microscopically as well as in their broad sweep. Peter gives us a detailed yet impassioned and technically astute reading of each work and brings out the core of the music. Hear this one!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Henry Kaiser & Ray Russell, The Celestial Squid

The pairing of celebrated outside guitar vet Ray Russell and well-known string avantist Henry Kaiser turns out to be a terrific idea that bears considerable fruit on their recent album The Celestial Squid (Rune 403).

It is a fully fleshed-out session designed to be a logical extension of Russell's acclaimed June 11 1971, that is, an album that has compositional impact as well as a good helping of out pyrotechnics. It is Kaiser's first album where he shares the lead duties and the kinetic energy of the dual combustion reaps considerable dividends.

The band is a well-chosen one. Steve Adams, Joshua Allen, Phillip Greenlief and Aram Shelton form a four-horn saxophone section, Michael Manring is on electric bass, Damon Smith on contrabass, and Weasel Walter and William Winant supply dual drumming clout.

Steve Adams, Ray Russell, Henry Kaiser, Weasel Walter and Joshua Allen all contribute compositions that give shape to the freewheeling outsideness that catapults Kaiser and Russell into some of their very best work while also giving the entire band opportunities for their collective and individual personalities to shine.

This is neither a one-off casual meeting nor a formulaic exercise. It is a nicely turned, energetic total art offering. There is plenty of Kaiser and Russell to appreciate but there is also a real group effort here. It is pretty fantastic music and I recommend you hear it. May Henry and Ray do another!

In the meantime, get this! It's very good!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Chris Cortez, Top Secret

Mainstream jazz electric guitarist Chris Cortez chimes in with a very nicely put-together session that showcases his guitar prowess against a backdrop of piano, rhythm and horns, the latter nicely arranged by Mark Piszczek, with one by Cortez. The album is called Top Secret (Blue Bamboo 026).

Cortez plays a finely honed bop-and-after guitar that has its roots in Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell and George Benson and extends them outwards into a very creative solo style.

The quartet nucleus that functions as the fulcrum point for the music is a swinging concern that has Paul English on piano, who solos well when called upon, Anthony Sapp, Bill Murry or Glenn Ackerman alternatingly on bass, and Vernon Daniels, Robert Aguilar or Joel Fulgham on drums. They all sound right. The horns vary in numbers and personnel but have a good presence on four of the ten numbers; the rest are for the quartet, except for "Stompin at the Savoy," which is a worthy two-guitar duo of Cortez and Greg Petito.

A couple of nice Cortez originals spell the primary reliance on songbook, jazz and contemporary standards, anything from Frank Foster's memorable "Simone," which Elvin Jones's group used to play, to "The Man I Love" and Earth, Wind and Fire's "That's the Way of the World."

The accent is rightly on Cortez and his very fluid, tasteful line-weaving and chordal finesse. He is a model mainstreamer, with plenty of schooling and the talent to make the music snap.

Everything goes right on this one. The arrangements add a nice dimension, the quartet grooves and swings and Cortez shows us what he can do.

Very nice!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Killing Spree

Avant jazz metal? Yes, at least with the debut from an ultra-progressive power trio named Killing Spree, who enjoy their debut on a recent Ayler Records release (143). The lineup is Sylvain Daniel on a very powerfully electric bass guitar, the mercurial Matthieu Metzger on saxophones, often enhanced with effects, and the very busy, driving drums of Gregoire Galichet.

Metzger provides some complicated compositional structures that the band has mastered and made drivingly tight yet free-sounding. Bassist Daniel cranks the bass and often gets a heavily distorted sound that is very virtuoso-oriented and at the same time as heavy as an anvil falling from a skyscraper. He is something to hear, without doubt. But then Metzger plays some startlingly cool sax lines, sometimes heavily effect-laden but continually interesting in their compositional and improvisational brilliance. Galichet kicks the band hard with an excellent, rather devastating drumming that follows the compositional arcs very creatively or just drives ahead with all-out torque.

This is not music for grandma to while away the hours while knitting. It is brash, bold, intense, metal jazz.

And what it is, it is! It is excellently performed and complex and full musically. Any electric bassist who aspires to avant rock excellence needs to hear Daniel on this. But then as a musical whole this one is a knockout all around.

Hang on to your hat and put this one on! Your neighbors may think you mad but you will no doubt be floored by it, if you like music on the edge. I surely recommend it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Mark Wingfield, Proof of Light, with Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis

Electric guitarist Mark Wingfield embarks on his sixth sojourn, Proof of Light (MoonJune 071) with a completely developed conceptual-compositional-improvisational stance and some beautifully realized music. He is aided and abetted by a very together Yaron Stavi on acoustic bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums. The music is astutely put-together fusion that avoids sounding like other such outfits, resolutely going its own way.

Perhaps all that has to do with Mark Wingfield's determination to draw upon untypical roots in his listening. At some point, as is mentioned in the detailed liner notes, he decided to stop listening to other guitarists in order not to be unduly influenced, instead drawing upon classic horn-wind playing and vocal styles as disparate as classical Indian, Qawwali Sufi music, and such artists as K.D. Lang and Betty Carter.

In the end Wingfield's style is his own, fluid, dexterous, beautifully singing and nicely smart in note choice.

The three together engage Wingfield's compositions throughout, which are notably intertwined in the improvisations rather than strictly separated out into only head-solos-head playing routines.

The band is marvelous and the music very engaging. MoonJune Records again does us a real service by making this music available. They are rapidly becoming a cornerstone institution for the fusion music style, doing for that music in a way what Blue Note did for hard-bop and postbop.

It is a great record and I do heartily suggest you get it. Wingfield is a guitarist to hear and the trio makes it all a wonderful listen! Kudos!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Norberto Lobo, Joao Lobo, Oba Loba

Anyone who reads regularly this review blog knows to expect virtually anything and everything that relates to guitar and bass playing, primarily in terms of music that may or may not be virtuoso showcases for artists, but is primarily determined by musical worth and interest.

Today's album is no exception. It is a Portuguese compositional ensemble headed by acoustic and electric guitarist (and multi-instrumentalist) Norberto Lobo and his brother (?) Joao Lobo on drums (and harp). The album is entitled Oba Loba (shhpuma 014CD).

It is music that does not fit neatly into categories. It has postmodern new music sonarity, jazz-rock, avant jazz, ambient and melodic dynamics, all mixed together in original ways. Norberto and Joao share the writing duties with one composed by Giovanni Di Domenico, who is the primary keyboard player in the ensemble. They are joined by Ananta Roosens on violin and trumpet, Jordi Grognard on clarinet and bass clarinet, and Lynn Cassiers on vocals and electronics. All join in on group vocals from time to time. There are several additional guests who appear here and there. So that takes care of the who.

The what does not go easily into a verbal description. This is original music both cutting-edge and lyrical. I won't say they sound like Oregon because they don't. But like early Oregon they create a diversely rooted music that is both tuneful and avant, sometimes alternatingly, sometimes both intermingled. Norberto plays some interesting guitar but everyone contributes and really it is especially all about a group compositional objective. That makes them unique because the group sound does not follow predictable lines though the hearing of it all can be easily appreciated once one gets used to what to expect.

This is a trip in uncharted waters and there are discoveries ahead. Set sail with some provisions and you should find the journey a pleasure and a surprise. Get your ears on this and you will come away with a feeling that you have been to a different place. What better?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Holger Scheidt Group, The Tides of Life

Bassist-composer-bandleader Holger Scheidt makes it pretty clear on the brief liner blurb to his album The Tides of life (Enja 9619 2). A primary influence on the music he writes and performs on the album is the sort of classic modern sound of mid-'60s albums like Nefertiti and Maiden Voyage, the middle-period Blue Notes and the important Miles band of the era.

And so we get six Scheidt compositions as springboards for the group improvisations that follow. The compositions and the soloing reflect a modern update of the classic sound. Holder on bass, Gordon Au on trumpet, Rich Perry on tenor, Victor Gould on piano and Anthony Pinciotti, drums, do not sound like Miles-Shorter-Hancock-Carter-Williams clones, mind you. But they do channel some of that in their playing and the compositions reflect the kind of harmonic-melodic sophistication of the Shorter-Hancock writing style.

For all that there is no real deja vu feeling as much as a feeling of extension into the present. These are excellent, committed artists who have something to say within the classic models. Au on trumpet straddles Miles-Hubbard in his own way, Perry goes beyond Shorter to accommodate a contemporary mainstream approach, Gould has all the harmonic sophistication, touch and intelligent note choice you'd expect, but injects himself too. And the bass-drum rhythm team of Scheidt and Pinciotti strongly anchor the music with real artistry and no slavish attempt to imitate.

The resulting set is a tribute to the bass and composition smarts of Scheidt and a very well-constructed group effort that keeps giving you things to appreciate as many times as you hear it.

Well-done! Very recommended.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Monty Alexander with Ernest Ranglin, Rass!

Anyone who lives for a while and at the same time pays attention to contemporary music styles, will eventually experience a kind of abrupt realization that a particular style has gone out of fashion. Perhaps it is all too clear to everyone, such as that moment when disco was totally uncool, but there are more subtle shifts, like with the sort of electric piano-centered funk-jazz that had a heyday that culminated in its wide-spread use across media channels (think of the theme song for the TV comedy "Taxi" as an example) and then faded. I had a moment when I recognized that it had passed.

Of course like cigars it can just as suddenly return and something of that may be happening today. At the same time you can get to the point where, in or out, the style in its best manifestations can be appreciated anew.

That's happening to me on hearing the reissue of an album I never heard back in the days when it could be found in the record stacks. I refer to the Monty Alexander MPS album from 1974, Rass! (MPS 0209737). On it we get Caribbean folk-pop standards and some remakes of r&b hits of the day. It features Monty articulately on electric piano, the convincing electric guitar of Ernest Ranglin, plus a nicely together rhythm section that included congas and percussion.

On my first listen I was slightly dismissive. But then as I listened further I began to appreciate why this music was not rote funk. The rhythm team gives the funkiness some good leverage, Monty Alexander plays with soul and taste and the guitar work of Ernest Ranglin has a real flair to it.

After you live with this album a while you find it is an especially good example of a style that may have faded but need not be dismissed in blanket fashion. Certainly this album is worth your ear-time. Nice.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Katie Thiroux, Introducing

Katie Thiroux is a double threat: she plays a very together acoustic bass and sings like a nightingale. You can hear her to very good advantage on her first, Introducing Katie Thiroux (BKM 1001), which features her and a very swinging quartet. Graham Dechter gives us some sterling, very hip straight-ahead electric guitar, Roger Neumann gets rootsy and soulful on tenor sax and Matt Witek gets a leveraged swinging going on drums.

Katie's bass playing has all the woodiness, nuance and depth one looks for in a contemporary mainstream setting. Her voice is a thing of beauty, dead on, expressive and tailored to a dramatic rendering of the lyrics. She breathes life into the standards she does here. "There's A Small Hotel" gets the treatment it deserves, "Wives and Lovers" in spite of its Madmen-era chauvinism sounds convincing, and on from there. She gives us a couple of originals which show real potential for her as a songwriter, too. Her singing very much swings, like her bass playing!

There are so many competing vocal-standards albums coming out that one can get jaded with it all. But you listen to this one by Katie Thiroux and you remember why when it works you forget the mediocrity out there and swing along.

Katie Thiroux is a real jazz singer in every way. Her bass playing is great, too! Hear this, by all means.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Free Nelson Mandoomjazz, Awakening of a Capital

Some music may not overwhelm you with technical prowess but nonetheless sounds so "right" that you respond and get something good out of it. The album by the trio Free Nelson Mandoomjazz, Awakening of a Capital (RareNoiseRecords) is like that. It is a trio of Rebecca Sneddon on alto sax, Colin Stewart on electric bass, and Paul Archibald on drums.

This is music where the bass guitar is very much a key to the overall sound. Colin gets a beautifully full and out-front tone, sometimes with some distortion, sometimes just vividly electric. He lays down riffs that hypnotize and get support from the openly free-rock drumming of Paul. Rebecca plays atop, often in an outside-avant way with the speaking-in-tongues excitement of new thing, sometimes with a more melodic approach.

The music reminds me a little of what Bill Laswell, Peter Brotzmann and Sonny Sharrock used to do with various good drummers, only there is no Sharrockian guitar presence, which leaves a bit of space for the music to open up. There are nicely worked out compositional jazz-rock lines and a kind of consistency to the music that makes you dig in after a while and let the music wash over you.

If you love the electric bass anchorage of an open trio this will immediately grab you. After a while the whole gestalt, the trio as a unit makes more and more sense. Nobody is playing especially fast, but rather it is a slowly unfolding thing, metal influenced (the "doom" reference has some significance to the sort of music here) yet open and free, too.

I found it an excellent listen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Chris Kelsey & Dom Minasi, Duets NYC/Woodstock

There are recordings that are very good but perhaps do not stand out as breakthrough examples of improvisational brilliance, and there those that have that quality. Today's recording is one of those breakthroughs. I speak of Chris Kelsey and Dom Minasi's latest, Duets NYC/Woodstock (Tzazz Krytyk CD). As the title suggests it is a series of duets between Chris Kelsey on soprano sax and Dom Minasi on electric guitar, recorded last year in New York and Woodstock.

The two have perhaps never sounded so inspired. Chris on soprano burns through motives and structures his playing so that fire and sensibility are seemingly always conjoined. Dom's playing too has fire and a complementary free logic so that the two engage in a free counterplay that is exhilarating to hear and extraordinary in impact.

There are nine free segments, some brief, others slightly less so, but always focused and filled with virtuoso flourishes. There is almost a telepathic togetherness in where they set out to go in each segment. Chris is dry and brittle, terse yet ever expanding on the initial motivic cells he brings in. Dom has a more liquid tone, a fiercely cascading series of chords and note phrases that show much schooling yet an ever-more original use of the possibilities his guitar makes available to him.

They both stand out here as reaching a pivotal point in their free-open stance. It is a breakthrough moment, in short, a tall hurdle surmounted and an entry into the new ground that opens up after the long climb.

It is most definitely music that needs to be heard! Chris Kelsey and Dom Minasi are at the top of their game and the inspiration shown leaves you very impressed but also very stimulated, elated even. Hear this without fail if you can!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Roads Rapidly Changing, Bob Dylan In & Out of the Folk Revival 1961-1965, DVD

Bob Dylan in his early career as a folk artist did as much as anybody in the '60s to change the way we thought of "popular music." He hardly was on a pop level in the early period yet he ultimately got the ear of pop-rock listeners and forever changed our view of what could be done. That may be a tall assertion, but watch the bio-DVD Roads Rapidly Changing, Bob Dylan In & Out of the Folk Revival 1961-1965 (Sexy Intellectual DVD 582).

The format is again typical of such bio-DVDs, chronological narrative, critical dialog and commentary from contemporaries, and performance clips. The subject is an important one and the DVD handles it well. We get an extended two-hour presentation that shows how in only five years Dylan managed to craft a revolution in what folk could be. It starts with his arrival in New York as a somewhat green, raw talent, goes on to talk about his friendship with the ailing Woody Guthrie, Dylan's first attempts to gain recognition and success on the folk circuit, his signing to Columbia and the first album, which was mostly folk covers with a pretty strong bluesy orientation.

The influence of the political activism of his then girlfriend was to have a huge influence on the startling series of originals that he brought to the world in his second and third albums, Freewheeling and The Times They Are A Changing. The idea that a folk artist crafted contemporary originals was much his own doing, but of course the incisive sublimity of the total Dylan package, unique and ever-shifting vocal style, harmonica and acoustic guitar accompaniment, the unforgettable poetic protest lyrics and compositional memorability are dealt with in some depth. As the story goes, the assassination of JFK affected Dylan heavily, as did a study of symbolist poets. With Another Side of Bob Dylan we get an ever more poetic, less politically engaged Dylan, culminating of course in the shock (to many folkies) of his electrification and seeming abandonment of the folk scene.

The DVD deals with all these developments in depth, raising questions as to whether he was as committed politically as was thought, or was he finding in the political upheavals poignant subjects that satisfied his need to tell an unforgettable story? Regardless the remarkable music of his folk period is celebrated as it deserves. No one could touch his artistry in those days and the lyrics and music stay with us today as some of the most significant of the era, masterpieces.

If you want a thoughtful, detailed overview of this critical period in the Dylan story you can scarce do better that this DVD bio. It raises issues, praises the originality and gives you a good feel for the folk scene of the era and Dyan's incredibly strong impact on it all.

Watch this one and you will doubtless get much to think about. Well done!

Friday, April 10, 2015

David Friesen Circle 3 Trio, Where the Light Falls

David Friesen is one of those bassists that over the years has created his own sound and style of playing music in the progressive jazz mode, harmonically based pulsating sounds that have jazz-rock inflections, what might want to call "post-ECM."

He comes back at us with a nice two-CD set featuring his Circle 3 Trio. When the Light Falls (Origin 82677) features an extended set of Friesen originals that bring his bass into lively interplay with Greg Goebel on piano and Charlie Doggett on drums. Guitarist Larry Koonse guest appears with the group for about half the numbers, and he adds a very compatible fourth voice.

This is a part live date, part studio, but all on the mark. The compositions serve to set the table for the considerably focused improvisations. Goebel has a post-Jarrett-Corea sort of rhythmic lyricism that goes well with what Friesen sets up. Koonse plays intelligently and eloquently. Doggett has an appealingly loose but forward-moving rock-swing feel at all times. And Friesen gives us much of the bass playing that makes him special, both in ensemble passages and as a key soloist.

The album grew on me as I listened my usual many times. It is subtle, on the surface mellow but quite sophisticated and musically deep once you get into it all.

Friesen shows us why his bass playing is foundational and the band comes across as very good indeed. It is a pleasure to hear this one!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Feats First, The Life and Music of Lowell George, DVD

Guitarist Lowell George left this planet in 1979. Yet his music has an immediacy that never sounds dated. Not to me. Part of that has to do with the rootedness of virtually everything he did, but especially in the way he made over those roots into something very much his own.

There is a DVD now out that deals cohesively with his biography and musical development. I watched it several days ago and found it very absorbing. Feats First: The Life & Music of Lowell George (Pride PGDVD 179) gives us more than two hours of his story. It follows the usual format of this kind of video: narrative, interviews and footage of live music and music videos join together to give us a chronological picture.

The story begins with his emergence as a participant in the rapidly growing LA rock phenom in the mid-sixties--as guitarist in one of the bands that enriched the scene in those days. The group records a number of singles, some produced by Frank Zappa, and is the opening band for a number of appearances with the Doors and for Zappa's Mothers of Invention. They do not gain the attention/success they seek and the band breaks up. From there George becomes the lead singer, then rhythm guitarists for the Mothers after Elliot Ingber's departure. Going forward we get the formation of Little Feat, their struggle for recognition and the ongoing development of their sound.

George's slide guitar work, its originality and particularity is given attention as is his vocal excellence. What's nice about this bio-video is the revealing interview segments, from the likes of his collaborator and friend Van Dyke Parks, from band members and contemporaries, critics, producers and engineers who worked closely with him.

A picture emerges of George as musical force behind Little Feat, artistic director, incomparable songwriter, guitarist wunderkind and vocalist extraordinaire. His growing fascination with the studio and what could be done with it forms an absorbing part of it all. The band's struggle for commercial success, its ups and downs with their label and the pressure to be continually moving forward over those years takes its toll. The story looks frankly at George's substance abuse problems and his attempt to cope with it all. In the end he succumbs, dead at age 34. A sad tale yet one that makes you appreciate his original artistry all the more.

It is very well done. You will be captivated by it if you are a George/Little Feat fan, surely.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Andy Brown, Soloist

Face it, as a musician you have two ways to go when you hear playing that at any point in time you could not possibly attempt given where you are in your playing. You can either reject the music contemptuously, maybe with anger, as not being worthy of your attention, or you can appreciate the artistry all the more. I saw Larry Coryell years ago at the Bottom Line. After a particularly finger-busting flourish he ended the tune and, looking out at the audience, commented, "I see a lot of frowns out there. Many of you must be guitarists!" I have always been of the camp that applauds what I cannot possibly do, learns something of the other possibilities out there by hearing such things, and welcomes the challenge of the in-executable!

That does not mean everything you hear that you cannot reproduce yourself should become your next goal. There is something for that but time is finite so at a certain age you accept that you cannot be all things. Yet there is joy in hearing a real artist excel at something most difficult.

Such an example glowingly presents itself on guitarist Andy Brown's recent album Soloist (Delmark 5019). I don't know much about him but just hearing the first few minutes of this album and eventually the whole thing tells you all you need to know. Andy is a consummate master of the solo guitar finger-picked style. The album consist of just him and his electric guitar. And that's all he needs.

Very few players past or present can match his prowess in this style. He runs through a series of mostly standards, supplying richly inventive chordal comping, a hint of a bass line, the melodic essentials and lively solo segments. The style comes out of past masters such as George Van Eps (see recent review of an excellent reissue of his recordings on these pages) and, as Andy mentions in the liners, a rather obscure player by the name of Kenny Poole. Joe Pass comes to mind as well when he was in a solo zone.

Maestro Brown is impeccable on this recording, giving us some incredibly convincing, very sophisticated and subtle examples of what the finger style can be. All I can say is that you need to hear this. Sure, most of us, maybe even all of us can never hope to get to this level with the style. That of course is all the more reason to hear him on this album.

It's sheer guitar heaven! Do not miss it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BKO Quintet, Bamako Today, New Music from Mali

One of the most encouraging trends in African music today is the return to roots music with close-miking and electrification making those sounds resonate with the blues and rock. A very good example right now is a group from Mali, the BKO Quintet. Their first full album, Bamako Today (Buda Musique), places the emphasis on hypnotic grooves and excellent call-and-response singing.

The instrumental forces consist of an amplified kora-like harp, an amplified traditional bass stringed instrument, and several hand drums. This is music with all the spirit and soul of West African tradition, yet an unrelenting drive that is aided by the electricity the band generates.

You can hear the affiliation of such music with the African diaspora, as anyone who knows the traditions has appreciated. Perhaps never more so than now are the traditions truly a part of world music consciousness. The excellent instrumental and vocal resources of BKO Quintet brings those qualities to the forefront. The harp player is especially good!

This is a fabulous album that all those who appreciate excellent stringed instrument interplay will likely be enthralled by. Guitarists and bassists can learn much from this music. But in the end it is the totality of sound put forward by the full ensemble of strings, drums and vocals that gets you going.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Billy Bang / William Parker, Medicine Buddha

It is a sad truism to say that sometimes it takes someone's passing before we understand what we have missed. That may be true of violinist, composer, bandleader Billy Bang, who has left us all too soon. Thankfully we have his music to appreciate via recordings. And perhaps that impressive body of work will enable his artistry to continue to gain wider recognition. An especially good, later recording is now available--in a series of live duets with the great William Parker, in turn one of the foundational avant bassists on the New York scene, an ever-energizing and innovative force.

William and Billy held forth in May of 2009 at the Rubin Museum in New York. Fortunately the tapes were rolling and we now have it to fully appreciate again and again, as the CD Medicine Buddha (No Business CD 71).

It shows both musician-artists at a genuine peak. Both are primed and extremely in tune with one another throughout. From the opening double bowing twosome and on into various adventurous avant improvisatory propulsions, there is no let-up in inspiration.

Bang clearly benefits from the energy and inspiration of his long-time colleague Parker. He is on a roll throughout with the virtuoso playing he did so well when he was in the right setting. He is on fire.

William sounds especially motivated on this set as well. He is in that untouchable place he can dwell in when everything gels. On bass he sets the pace for other bassists to emulate or match, and the truth is that not many can. But he sounds very appropriate on shakuhachi and the African, stringed dousn gouni, as well.

It is a model of what a contemporary spontaneity can give the listener when the best exponents get the time and space to explore. Clearly the live setting and the general circumstances were especially favorable on that day.

The two come through with some exemplary work. You don't want to miss this one. Long live Billy Bang via recorded examples such as this. And long live Maestro Parker in his central presence today and in the years to come.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Eberhard Weber, Encore

Eberhard Weber has been one of the sound-and-substance innovators of the electric upright bass over the years, in addition to being a composer who had a big part in shaping what we think of as "the ECM sound." Very sadly, because of physical problems, he can no longer play. With adventure and courage he has managed to make some excellent music in the last two albums, the second at hand being Encore (ECM B0022752-02). He has done this by utilizing the many bass solos that were recorded as a spotlight of live recordings made of the Jan Garbarek group, when Eberhard had a chance to invent unaccompanied bass improvisations.

Eberhard has taken these solos and made them the basis of new music, by manipulating them sonically, adding keyboard parts (played with his left-hand) and then having Ack van Rooyen participate on flugelhorn as soloist and ensemble member.

What we get is surprisingly good, very good indeed. The Weber bass is out front and everything you would wish it to be and the structures Weber builds around the solos along with van Rooyen's nice contributions make for some really fetching music.

It makes you remember what a great he has been, but then it gives you something of the greatness again! Hear it!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ken Silverman Trio, Parallel Man

It is without any flippancy whatever that I say that guitarist Ken Silverman is one of the principal exponents of a jazz-rock guitar style that incorporates, transforms and updates the old surf sound. Surf guitar is no less an art when done well than any other, but it takes a special sensibility to get a sound that resonates with basic approaches that come out of early electric rock-surf style yet goes beyond into today and the complexities of the present.

You can hear that nicely in his latest, the Ken Silverman Trio and Parallel Man (SoundSeer S10003). He is joined by roadworthy colleagues in Sam McPherson on double bass and Andy O'Neill on drums. They set the tone for Ken's out-front presence in a set of originals and an arrangement, of all things, of Prokofiev's "Visions Fugitives #1."

It all serves to give you a good look at where Ken is at these days.

I found it all very refreshing. If you resonate with that old instrumental sound this brings it back to us as contemporary art! Listen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tesla Manaf

With the appearance of Indonesian guitarist-composer Tesla Manaf's first worldwide distributed album, simply titled Tesla Manaf (Moon June 068), we get some extraordinarily original fusion music that transcends the borders between local and universal in two rather remarkable compositional sequences: "A Man's Relationship with His Fragile Area" and "It's All Yours."

The first sequence gathers Tesla with a very game quartet that includes Ruby Zulkarnaen on double bass, Desal Sembaba on drums and Hulhul on clarinet, tarompet pencak and Indonesian flute. The music deftly combines an Indonesian virtuosity with some of the devices of contemporary fusion. Altogether the result is a very complex rhythmic phrase structure that makes full use of all four instrumentalists in very varied and intriguing ways. Tesla's guitar work is indeed something to appreciate in its intricacies, but the same can be said for the other three instrumentalists in the ensemble context. There is much to appreciate here and none of it sounds derived so much as cast from a very original mold.

"It's All Yours" joins a different quintet with occasional vocals and a number of gamelan instruments. The ensemble this time out is Tesla with Gega Nesywara on acoustic bass, Yo Nafis on keys, Dani Irjayana on drums and the soprano sax and flute of Mumu. Here again the compositional element is the most extraordinary part. The intersection of gamelan style and fusion succeeds wonderfully well, with the gamelan instruments laying out ostinato patterns that are very characteristic but then the fusion instruments complement the music with contrasting interlocking patterns that put everything in a very new, innovative context.

Tesla's guitar work is exemplary throughout. He is central to the complex motifs of the compositions which dominate more so than improvisational excursions, though Tesla has some notable moments to shine here and there. In the end the music is so strikingly original that you pay less attention to individual prowess so much as you enter joyfully into the compositional excellence of it all.

This is world fusion of the highest sort. Anybody who appreciates new transformations of East and West and anyone with a sense of adventure will respond to this excellent album. Bravo!