Friday, May 29, 2015

Elliott Sharp, Octal Book Three

Those in the know do not need to be told about the importance of Elliott Sharp for composed and improvised avant music. His influence is pervasive and he remains an important source of innovative original music, as he has been for many decades. His guitar playing is unparalleled, his compositions occupy worlds of their own, and even his reed playing has much to recommend it.

Today we get Elliott Sharp the solo guitarist, or rather the player of the eight-string electric guitar-bass. We have the third volume at hand of his solo series for the instrument, Octal Book Three (Clean Feed CFG008CD).

There are in all 11 episodes/aural events born of solo instrument and live effects, most especially the digital delay but other devices as well, in combination with harmonics and extended techniques as well as a generally abstracted, sometimes highly motored approach.

It is instructive to compare this music with the David Torn album I reviewed here a few weeks ago. Both start with the premise of a solo instrument and its transformations electronically. But whereas Torn creates a more directly rock inflected sonic soundscape, Elliott deals in combinations of sounds and tones that when subjected to delay repetition have a more exotically percussive edge and a noise/sound color quality that give the strings a less typically melodically oriented feel. Innovative, sonically moving results are continually at hand. There is more to it than just that and both the Torn and Sharp odysseys are seminal each in their own ways.

But at any rate the sounds Sharp produces and repeats are very much more avant yet somehow earthen or even tribal at points. There can be driving rhythms that get you moving in the most appealing sorts of ways. Then there are sound sequences energetically outside too, but in a way often more dense and electric than, say, Derek Bailey in a typical performance.

The knowing in the end is in the hearing. "Book Three" is to me enormously satisfying. Anyone interested in the electric guitar(bass) and its modern extensions into new forms of artistry should hear this one, without a doubt. Viva Elliott Sharp!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dave Kilminster, And the Truth Will Set You Free

Back again today with another name new to me, Dave Kilminster. He plays quite decent guitar and is joined by a power trio. He sings well and writes some nice songs in the alternate rock zone. The lyrics are mostly Christian but not especially preachy.

I speak about his album The Truth Will Set You Free (Killer Guitar Records 003).

There is the occasional presence of the Larkin String Quartet in the mix. Everything is composed and arranged by Kilminster and he quite clearly has a musical vision that holds up well throughout the program.

It is the sort of music that transcends what one sometimes hears in the Christian Rock zone. That is, the music holds its own without the necessity of an insular comparison. It's good enough to stand on its own as a rock album of quality.

Not my usual cup of tea, but well done!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bill Gable, No Straight Lines

If I have not heard singer-songwriter-classical-nylon-guitarist Bill Gable prior to the album at hand it only means our paths have not crossed until now; it is not because his art is unworthy. His music is beyond category, jazzish, lyrical, melodically memorable, with appropriate, sophisticated guitar accompaniment. There is often enough a Latin-Brazilian tinge to this music, so that if this were a Brazilian artist singing in Portuguese it would not feel out-of-place. There is a good bit of saudade in the lyrics, even.

I speak of his album No Straight Lines (Autograph 502). It puts Bill, his voice and guitar front and center, with appropriate accompaniment on piano (Larry Goldings), acoustic bass, percussion and some selected additions, flugelhorn (Arturo Solar), folk instruments and etc., all quite fitting and appropriate.

He is a guitarist of good taste and artistry, and he brings in some soloists like Ethan Margolis in a flamenco style every so often to add to it all.

His voice is very lyrically oriented, straightforward and musical. The songs are strong.

It showcases Gable's talent and artistry extremely well. These are songs others might well cover, though his way with them are so much a part of the package that other versions would remind you what he brings to it all.

Bill Gable is a talent! You wont forget this one if you listen a few times. Excellent!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Robert Zott, Baroque Blues, Vol. 1

There are DIY recordings out there in the multitudes. What it means in the positive sense is that some worthy artists get to put together some music for us that we might not otherwise have the chance to hear.

Robert Zott, guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist gives us something of that sort on his EP Baroque Blues, Vol 1 (self-released). This is underground music that has a quirkiness that takes a listen or two to get acclimated.

It is musically quite competent but not about virtuoso chop-licking. Rather it is an intimate alternative-out series of songs with sonic extras, electronics, solid fundamental rock and blues roots, but taken to different places.

The strength lies in the convincing songs and their presentation. It is a kind of chamber rock more so than a blow-up-the-amps hard attack. And that is cool once you adjust your expectations.

Normal it ain't. And in the end, I found myself saying, "yeah, not what I would expect but it works!" If you want a break from the usual and still believe in the rock song thing you will find something to appreciate here. Beefheart meets Pearls Before Swine? No. Not exactly. But that might give you a very rough approximation?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pascal Niggenkemper, Solo, Look with Thine Ears

The solo acoustic bass recording is of course one of the litmus tests in gauging the level of artistry of the jazz-free jazz practitioner. Today, such an outing from Pascal Niggenkemper, a bassist who has been an important member of adventuresome ensembles for some time now. Look with Thine Eyes (Clean Feed 324) gives us a full CD of his solo excursions.

The results are singular and fascinating. Pascal sometimes uses objects to alter the sound of the instrument, what you could call prepared bass. They give us a variety of sounds depending on how they are employed, of course, and the materials involved. So we get, for example, a fuzzy sound as Pascal bows over strings that apparently have been inter-leavened with metal objects. These are not gimmicks, for sure, but rather ways of extending the sonic-timbral qualities of the bass.

Their use is musical as is the total result of imaginative artistry that is Pascal here. His bowing is excellent, his pizzicato as well, and he gives us 13 segments that show true originality, free and new music excellence, and variety. "Extended techniques" are the order of the day, very successfully so.

The wealth of sonics is extraordinary and in the end it all comes through as music that gets your ear, and bass playing of a high caliber.

All bass fans and bassists should get this one if they can. Avant enthusiasts in general, too.

A fine effort, one of the best and most original of its kind.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Coclea, Guilherme Goncalves

There are artists today who make almost orchestral music out of the electric guitar, using effects and digital technology. I see nothing wrong with this. It comes out of a long line of guitar transformations that started in rock, found its first fully cohesive statement in early Jimi Hendrix, then continued to evolve with Rypdal, Fripp, Lucas and so forth into today.

A new entry into ambient psychedelic sonics can be heard on the album Coclea (ShhPuma 015), a nicely paced CD of compositions that make full use of the very electric guitar and the possibilities the studio situation affords. Guilherme Goncalves is the composer of the music heard. He also presumably is the guitarist and overall sound sculptor responsible for the end musical result. There are vocals here too, and perhaps some purely electronic elements though I don't believe so, for what it is worth.

Whether this is live with digital delay or multi-tracked I cannot say for sure and frankly I don't care. Perhaps this is a controversial view but as much as I love the live situation, the digital world gives us the chance to create musical worlds as a painter works with canvas and pigment, and I don't see a problem with that. The finished painting is always a product of multiple "live" actions and other than the old Zen spontaneous single-gesture artists of the East, it is never really "live" in the moment. Why cannot a musical artist have the same freedom, if he or she so wishes? A classical composer in the traditional sense is not required to write out all the parts simultaneously, but works in time and over time. Not everything is improvised though the construction of all musical work involves successive elements of improvisation and revision over time, much as a jazz artist practices.

What matters to me is the musical result. And with Coclea it is strongly evocative, ambient, a bit spooky perhaps, but also showing a fine sensitivity to the sound an electric guitar can provide in the extended electronically enhanced world and some memorable compositional results.

I don't care what this music is called. It may not be jazz. It may not be rock. It is new music and it is highly stimulating. And if that means something to you, so much the better. It is well-done and stays in your mind. And so I recommend it for that.

The point is to me that music like this does not negate other music so much as it adds to our musical legacy if it is good. It is good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

District 97 with John Wetton, One More Red Night, Live in Chicago

John Wetton along with Greg Lake, both an integral part of King Crimson incarnations, were and still are important prog rock vocalists. They can be counted among the handful of style-setters in the prog realm. They also wrote and separately co-wrote some great songs. Today we have Wetton as lead vocalist with the band District 97 in a live set from Chicago. They do some interesting remakes of songs associated with King Crimson and so the album is appropriately called One More Red Night (Primary Purpose 002).

The band is tight with Leslie Hunt sounding well as second lead vocalist, Jim Tashjian on guitar managing NOT to sound too Frippian, and some very good additional band members.

They get interesting versions of "One More Red Nightmare," "Fallen Angel," "Starless," etc.

If you are a Crimson/Wetton completist you will find this one a valuable addition. I found it all good listening, though the two-CD reissue of Wetton and Richard Palmer-Jones, Jack-Knife/Monkey Business seems a little more adventuresome, especially the second volume. I reviewed that here this past February 27, 2015.

Plenty of good music on this one, anyway.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Ali Bey, My Finest Hour

Today an album from a very fine electric bassist, Ali Bey. My Finest Hour (self released) presents a power fusion trio of Larry Andrews on electric guitar, Timothy Omar Stroud on drums, and Bey on four-string.

There are some guests here and there but in the end it is Bey and the trio who shine forth. Ali is a technically endowed, expressive presence throughout. Some great bass playing is in order. But then Larry and Timothy are also fine players.

It is original fusion-rock music of appeal that you hear. And yes, the bass is out front and beautifully extroverted!

Ali Bey is no joke and his band take no prisoners!! Put it on and revel. If you are a bassist, you will want to go woodshed.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Elizabeth Shepherd, The Signal

The problem with categories is twofold: a)they are especially important on the internet, b)they do not do justice to truly innovative music. I think this as I contemplate and rehear the very memorable album The Signal (Linus 270197) by singer-songwriter keyboardist Elizabeth Shepherd.

These are primarily memorable original songs sung whispily and effectively by Elizabeth and arranged by her for a smallish band. Sometimes Lionel Loueke appears on electric guitar and does some nice things, but this is not a guitar album per se. So why post the review on this site? Because the quality of the music will appeal to the audience this blog attracts. It's not rock exactly, not funk exactly, not jazz exactly, but it is some excellent song-vocal amalgams.

This is not Elizabeth's first. You can read about an earlier album, also quite nice, by typing her name in the search box above.

She is very good, original in a contemporary, sensitive lyrically personal way. Listen!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Noah Kaplan, Giacomo Merega, Joe Moffett, Crows & Motives

We return today with another good free trio effort that features Giacomo Merega on electric bass, along with Noah Kaplan on alto sax and Joe Moffett on trumpet. The album is titled Crows & Motives (Underwolf).

It is an album of open-form freedom, a chance for all three artists to express lines and note-choices that meld together into an ever shifting unity. Merega has a burnished electric bass fluidity that sets the bottom foundation for the music well and shows inventive originality. Sometimes he shifts into fuzz-distortion and that gives the trio a more neo-psychedelic edge. Kaplan can be mercurial or lithely floating. Moffett sounds limber and full.

There are spontaneous effusions and what sound like composed or at least deliberately choreographed motives that play in and out of the continuous dialoging. In the 33-plus minutes of the EP your attention gets focused by the unexpected shifts and turns the trio plunges into heartily.

It's a fine effort all around, a good addition to the ever blossoming art of the improvisers today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trio (mit) Marlene, The Surface of an Object

Something a little different today. We have the Trio (mit) Marlene and their album The Surface Of An Object (Rudy Records RRJ1025). Essentially it is an avant excursion with attention to thematic motives. Giacomo Merega centers the music on electric bass guitar, feeding the trio ostinato lines and motivic structures which are then built over by the alto sax of Michael Attias (who doubles on Wurlitzer piano) and the drumming of Satoshi Takeishi.

Satoshi delivers with the creative flair one expects of him. There is an artful freedom to his rubato-time colorations and he makes an important third of this trio. Attias sometimes uses the Wurlitzer as a voice that seconds his alto musings. Either way his alto work is smart and focused throughout. Merega expands from ostinatos to extended improvisational statements that build around the implications of what he has set up and responds readily and creatively to Attias and Takeishi and what they do. But then they can and do break it up and go beyond, always in a compositionally mindful way.

It is an integrated, compositionally structured freedom that keeps you interested and gives you some reassuring melodic road-maps so that the route seems apparent and has a logic.

I found it a fascinating set. Give it a good listen. It is worthy.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Brad Myers, Prime Numbers

Modern mainstream jazz has so many sub-styles attached to it as to almost be meaningless as a category. I won't rehearse all the possibilities here, except to say that a swinging pulse and the presence of chord changes are a common factor for the most part. But that covers a great many approaches. Today's album is mainstream in that sense, yet it has postbop and bop-cool aspects that set it stylistically apart from some of its brethren styles.

Guitarist Brad Myers heads the date and plays some mellow-toned electric with a sort of Jim Hall-Kenny-Burrell-and-after smarts. The vibes (Chris Barrick)-tenor (Ben Walkenhauer)-acoustic bass (Peter Gemus)-drums (Tom Buckley) lineup and playing styles put you in mind of a modern-day equivalent of some of those Atlantic sessions from the fifties where Bags was paired with some contrasting cats. Not that there is a noticeable copycat thing here. No one sounds like they are channeling directly, but there is a heated coolness to the music along with a post-then currency that makes for interesting combinations. And the compositions are beyond in their own interesting way.

Brad has a clean-toned involved playing style that his compositions complement well. "Invitation," a Shorter and a Monk tune round out the program and are given arrangements that freshen the sound. Barrick on vibes, Walkenhauer on tenor and Gemus on bass solo well and show their own personal way within the mainstream currents. Tom Buckley sounds subtle and swinging in the way that a relatively quiet, cool sound demands, and takes a nice solo or two. Michael Mavridoglou and Dominic Marino fill out the sound on trumpet and flugel (for two cuts) and trombone (one cut), respectively.

The music rings true and has enough original and updated to it that you do not feel like you have taken a trip on Sherman's "way-back" machine.

Friday, May 8, 2015

David Torn, Only Sky

David Torn's first album since 2007, Only Sky (ECM B0022966-02) reaffirms his creative stature as a major force in the high art of very electric guitar, space guitar if you will. The album creates vibrant soundscapes and orchestrally dense thickets of cosmic sound, as produced by solo electric guitar and its transformations.

There are moments of pure tone-space and with his highly musical approach to effects, especially digital delay, a blues-rock-compositional presence that skillfully glides atop the pulsating or enveloping shimmers of delay for music at once deftly creative, guitar-centric, beautifully sculpted, with essay-like logic and a strong feeling of structure-in-motion.

The sound is monumental in that special ECM sense and each piece brings us memorable music which is much more than merely mood inducing. The compositional elements bring the music a soulful but lyrical memorability and show the hand of a master who knows how to build sonic structures and make the total aural package into a unified whole. That is a matter of years experimenting with effects, which like any other sound aspect of the instrument is something for which special technique-sets and a sure artistic sense are needed for a great result. That is very much happening on the album.

The virtuoso use of spatial effect extensions give David Torn a poet's surety. To my mind, in today's cluttered world of avant guitar excursions, David and Gary Lucas reign supreme as the present-day masters of space. This album gives you a wonderful travelogue into Torn's special world, and in the process demonstrates just how good he is at it.

It is stunning. A masterpiece!

If you are Stateside and able to catch David on his tour, it starts today. Here is the itinerary: May 8 - New York, NY at Subculture, May 10 - Hamden, CT at The Ballroom at The Outer Space, May 11 - Marlboro, NY at The Falcon, May 12 - Dunellen, NJ at NJ Proghouse @ Roxy & Dukes, May 13 - Cambridge, MA at Regattabar, May 14 - Philadelphia, PA at Philadelphia Art Alliance, May 16 - Portland, OR at Holocene, May 17-18 - Seattle, WA at Storyville (Pike Place), May 19 - San Francisco, CA at Slim’s, May 20 - Sacramento, CA at Gold Lion Arts, May 21 - Los Angeles, CA at Blue Whale, May 22 - Denver, CO at Walnut Room, May 26 - Minneapolis, MN at Cedar Cultural Center, May 27 - Milwaukee, WI at The Jazz Estate, May 29 - Chicago, IL at Constellation, May 30 - Cincinnati, OH at The Monastery, May 31 - Pittsburgh, PA at Club Café, June 1 - Washington DC at Union Arts, June 3 - Baltimore, MD at The Windup Space, June 4 - Carrboro, NC at Cat’s Cradle, June 6 - Asheville, NC at Streamside Concerts, June 7 - Atlanta, GA at Red Light Café

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Velkro, Don't Wait for the Revolution

Three talented players with diverse European backgrounds unite as the trio Velkro and the album Don't Wait for the Revolution (Clean Feed 313). The music is an original mix of avant propulsed jazz with some rock heft.

Bostian Simon is on tenor sax. He has inventive imagination that carries him forward throughout the set and never gets tiring. Stephan Meidell plays electric guitar, bass guitar, and peppers the mix with electronics. Luis Candeias gives us some very nicely horizontal time on drums, then comes back with nicely timeless vertical variations.

It's a trio that does not sound quite like any other. There are very electric moments along with a DIY creativity that gives us outside thrusts that are not typical, nor are they predictable.

Seven originals grace the album, with strong anchoring guitar and bass riffs at times, melodic originality and moments that break the pulse and go into various creative zones. Stephan's bass and guitar often serve as the fulcrum points in the music, giving structure to the fertile embellishments we hear nicely in Simon's soloing and Candeias's free variations. But then Stephan can invent some free lines worth hearing, too. And his electronics strongly color the end result.

In the end we get music that occupies a space of its own, not quite free avant jazz, not quite rock-jazz, not quite anything in a predictable way.

It is enjoyable, adventuresome fare from three players who do not follow any typical path but strike out on their own into interesting territory that straddles a number of styles and sounds completely contemporary. A very good listen!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Extremely Serious Business, Headwall

ESP Disk has never been known for fusion and contemporary mainstream jazz, yet that is what they offer us with the group Extremely Serious Business and their album Headwall (ESP 5005). It is the vehicle for the strong electric guitar styling of John D. Thomas, who also writes the original numbers, five in all with two standards reworked as refreshing breaks from the routine.

Thomas plays an electric guitar and also a guitar played through a guitar synthesizer. I generally prefer his sound on the untransformed instrument, but the switch gives us two different voices so we get a variety of worlds there. He is a craftsman of the contemporary rapid-fire line, which he gives us nicely with good ideas and a sort of post-Trane expanded chromatic tonality. Occasionally the lines lag just a tad, so that one wishes the tempo might be slightly slower or another take made. This is minor compared with the total effect of his playing, which gets your ears attuned and excites with its arching dynamic.

The band is a together quartet of Greg Burke on piano, Paul Beaudry acoustic bass, and Tom Garner, drums, good players all. Silver's "Song for My Father" features John on guitar, keys and electric bass with Garner on drums and it works well. There is as a concluding work a guitar duet with Avi Rothbard on "Yesterdays," and that comes out nicely, too.

The band, the originals and Thomas's artistry make for good listening. The fusion is rooted in hard bop and after more than it is rock oriented. And that is fine because there is sincerity, talent, commitment and some twists and turns that bring it all home.

Well done!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Isaac Darche, Team & Variations

Very good post-bop guitarists play music that does not really fall naturally on the guitar fretboard. The adept at rapid-fire lining and sophisticated chord sequencing has to conquer the inertia inherent in a guitar. A piano lays out all the note possibilities horizontally. "All you have to do" is realize them. A guitar gives you all possibilities as well, but it doesn't lay them out so much as you have to discover them with two different hand functions. I partly jest. To play any instrument well is a challenge. But to me the guitar (or for that matter the contrabass, violin, and/or other stringed instruments) has note possibilities that are mostly not intuitively given to you. We all have seen the amusing videos of cats or dogs "playing" the piano in some fashion. I know of no videos showing pets playing the guitar in any fashion. Well all that means is that there are pre-conditions for getting the guitar to sound that are less obvious than on the piano. This is of course a gross simplification. To do things well on either instrument is equally difficult. They take a lifetime in many ways.

So today we have Isaac Darche, a post-bop guitar player of great skill, technique, finesse, imagination. He puts together an excellent quintet and gives us much fine music on his album Team & Variation (Challenge 73395).

What makes this album so intriguing? The five Darche compositions are exemplary models with complex lines and interesting changes. The three standards are well handled as well. The band members all have the ability to make excellent music in the post-bop vein. Isaac Darche is the consummate weaver of line-twisting spells, a master of balance and velocity, an inventive, inspired technician who has much soul and feeling and a sense of form he brings to the solo situation quite well. He has found very compatible counterparts in the front line in Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor and Glenn Zaleski on piano, the latter who comps with flair, a kind of post-Hancockian sophistication. The bass-drums team of Desmond White and E. J. Strickland are superior as well. They swing mightily and internalize the compositional forms and give back creatively. Everybody does that really, but the rhythm sets the pace and makes it all pop.

Darche is one of those players who brings his considerable "A" game to every song, giving us some variations that always seem inspired. But there is much good soloing all around.

This is a disk I would go so far to say is stunningly good. Darche is a monster and he surrounds himself with just the right kind of companions to get his vision soaring. Excellent!

Monday, May 4, 2015

HeKz, Caerus

Today another firmly in the rock zone, metallic and prog-oriented. Here are HeKz, a talented quintet who fashion committed lyrics woven around songwriting of a memorable nature and laced with intricate instrumental routines that keep your ears busy in good ways. The album at hand is Caerus (bmhaudio 001), nine ambitious numbers featuring the out-front bass guitar and vocals of Matt Young, handy and idiomatic guitar work from Alastair Beveridge and Tom Smith, the keys of James Messenger and the drums of Kirk Brandham. They meld together as a unified well-drilled rock machine, not especially sounding like anybody as much as embodying metal-prog as state-of-the-art contemporaneity.

The vocals have that boisterous musicality that are what you might expect from such a group. Guitar solos show the hammering-on rapidity so much a part of the technical bag of accomplished players these days, but do not over rely upon speed.

The full impact of the band in their fully arranged music is what stands out as a whole in the end. HeKz will satisfy your need for something heavy and well put-together. A winner for those who enjoy the genre!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Lunden Reign, American Stranger

To say that you like or love something "in spite of yourself" is mostly to say that whoever you are doesn't necessarily fit with the attraction to something. In the case of the band project Lunden Reign and their album American Stranger (self released) I can't say that I find it good in spite of myself. I have always appreciated a good rock album and this one qualifies. That it has the presence of a real band with a real lead guitarist (Lora G) and a vocalist who projects forward very well without the slightest need for digital pitch-correction (Nikki Lunden), that it has a real bass player, a real drummer and they do songs that may have a possibility of airplay but hold their own as songs well-written (Nikki and Lora along with producer Luis Maldonado), well then it isn't really in spite of myself, is it?

The feel of the music is not as backward looking as it is contemporary, and I suppose for us older folks that takes a little to get used to. It doesn't have that contemporary vapidity that the worst of pop today seems to have sunk into. But that becomes ever more clear as you listen a few times.

It's a band and an album that ultimately appeals to me because it shows you that rock can live on and thrive when things are right. Lunden Reign makes things right!

So if you want to get a sense what is happening today rock-wise, here is one place to find out.