Friday, July 31, 2015

Max Johnson Trio, Something Familiar

Blossoming bassist-composer-bandleader Max Johnson gives us his best album to date with Something Familiar (Fresh Sound New Talent). It's a trio with Kirk Knuffke on trumpet, Ziv Ravitz on drums and of course Max on bass. The trio is especially well-matched and very much a three-way affair.

Kirk is one of the brighter lights on the new horn scene and he plays bop-and-after cool-heat with some extraordinarily nice solo work on this one. Max is a bassist with much to offer and the ability to articulate his thoughts percussively and in a full-toned way. Ziv swings and swings with imagination and heat. I don't have the back cover on this one but it sounds like these are Max's tunes. They come across well.

It's a fully varied program of smokers and balladic things. Max shows you that he is the complete bassist and a voice to contend with, a leader of stature, a soloist of power and ideas. Knuffke sounds great as ever. Ziv has the touch and the feel to make it all pop.

It is a real joy to hear this! Anyone who digs modern-and-beyond jazz should get this one. Bassists need to hear it. It just lays right so, what the heck, everybody should get into it.

Great outing!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kenny Carr, Idle Talk

Kenny Carr? A guitarist of the electric persuasion, in the jazz camp and well-situated there as a real player after Berklee, ten years with Ray Charles, and now a burgeoning solo career. Idle Talk (Zoozazz Music) is not his first album. There are several others I am afraid I have missed. But what matters is that this one comes at you with a good band, a sound, and guitar playing that is smart, contemporary, yet rooted.

He is joined on the new one by Donny McCaslin on sax, a player who has steadily gained steam and is up there in the ranks of players in the new mainstream. Kenny Wollesen drums swingingly and nicely. And Hans Glawischnig moves along well as a sophisticated bassist who digs into the material, solos well when called upon and adds much.

The program is a set of well-hewn originals by Carr in the post-hardbop earthy mode. They set the stage for some excellent soloing from Carr and McCaslin.

Kenny Carr has schooled his good instincts for a potent guitar sound that has soul, boppish roots and a fine sense of solo weaving. He and Donny never flag for ideas.

Idle Talk satisfies on many levels. It's a great band effort, the tunes hit home, McCaslin says his say well and, most importantly, Kenny Carr comes across as a real player, a plectrician of ideas and soulfulness

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Consider the Source, World War Trio Parts II & III

I get so much in the way of CDs by artists I don't (at that point) know that I have to refocus with every new one, since anything is possible out there. When I received the deluxe 2-CD package of the latest by power trio Consider the Source, I had no idea what it would contain, though the packaging was tasteful and intriguing in itself. World War Trio (Parts II & III) (Techne) took me a few listens to fully appreciate, but straight off I knew it was special fare.

According to the press sheet, Consider the Source's fans call the music "Sci-Fi Middle Eastern Fusion." Now that seems pretty righteous and accurate. It is the well-considered trio music of John Ferrara on four and five string bass, ukelele bass and banjo bass(!); Gabriel Marin on fretted and fretless electric guitars in addition to guitar synth, dutar, dombra, baglama saz, chattarangui, danbau, and yayli tanbur; and Jeff Mann on drums and percussion.

Fine. So that tells you the specifics. The music speaks for why all that is important. The compositional vehicles are generally intricate and expressive of prog-metal meets the middle-east and India.

All three musicians are top-drawer. Ferrara plays excellent bass. He thoroughly nails down the bottom end with chops and imagination but also functions as a solo entity at times, sounding great. Mann drums and percusses with drive and a sensitivity to where the band is going. And Marin...has some incredible ideas that deftly combine rock and the ethnosphere with originality and a complete melding of the polarities to a fine totality. He is one NOT to miss, really.

And that is so of the band x 3. The two CDs are filled with a great deal of music but nothing feels in the least bit unnecessary.

The music is hot, advanced, original, very musicianly and quite exciting. OK, so you are skeptical? Just hear this set a few times! Do not miss it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Trey Gunn, The Waters, They Are Rising

Face it, touch guitarist Trey Gunn is special. Sure he is one of the foremost players of the touch style. But he also creates sonic worlds that transcend instrumentality and speak directly to you the listener in a compositionally, improvisationally vivid way.

His new album, The Waters, They are Rising (7D 1511) gives you all that. Hauntingly.

It consists of four solo touch guitar sequences recorded live on his Security Project Tour last year. Each was meant to serve as an introduction to "Here Comes the Flood," the Peter Gabriel song, yet they stand on their own as poetic, spacy guitar tour de force statements.

But there is more on this album. Two duets with vocalist Dylan Nichole Bandy stand out, especially their version of Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet," which along with one other piece included on the album were part of the soundtrack for the film "Every Beautiful Thing."

Then there are four more cuts recorded in the studio. All of them are substantial.

All fit together well like the pieces of an intricate puzzle. It makes for a really ear-grabbing program, showing Trey Gunn at his most lyrical, most spacey and most accomplished.

You can get a copy by pasting the following URL into your browser:

The voltage is there but then so is the magic. Trey Gunn travels at the forefront of those rethinking the electric guitar sound today. This is one of his very best.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Omar Coleman, Born & Raised

The real-deal Chicago blues keeps on, and Delmark is a key label in its documentation. The soul of Bobby Rush, Junior Wells and gospel have been important influences on Omar Coleman, a bluesman who gives us lots to like on his recent album Born & Raised (Delmark 840). He sings with genuine soul and plays a nice harmonica. His band is very together, with Pete Galanis playing some mean guitar along with guests Toronzo Cannon, Mike Wheeler and David Herrero.

This is the essence of old-school soul blues, updated a tad but filled with the classic thrust. Omar writes good tunes, maybe not with quite the lyric jolt of Muddy or B.B., but honest and testificatory, you dig? And the singing is right there, projecting the directness of soul-blues power.

I have nothing bad to say about Omar and the album. He speaks from inside and the band gives it that raw jolt with a little of the soul extra musicality. He and the band have it down, straight.

You want some new blues talent in your listening routine? Born & Raised gives you something good and real to add to what you already have in your head!


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Guapo, Obscure Knowledge

The avant rock outfit Guapo celebrates 20 years of dedicated psychedelicizing with a new album, Obscure Knowledge (Cuneiform). This is their 10th, the third on Cuneiform. It travels far into space with compositional routines that take advantage of the adventurous capabilities of Emmett Elvin on Fender Rhodes, Hammond organ, synths, James Sedwards on bass guitar, Kavus Torabi, guitar, and David J. Smith on drum kit, percussion, keyboards & noises. Special guests Michael J. York on woodwinds and Antti Uusimaki on additional keyboards & effects add to the clout.

This is less of a jamband than a well-considered group-oriented cosmic psyche-trance compositional presentation. This is music that has considerable tightness thanks to the longevity of the group but shows nothing of the "here's another album" off-handedness that some long-lived groups fall into.

It is seriously heavy atmospherics where every player has a special role to play in the total mix. Anyone familiar with Guapo will resonate with the album, but then so will those who come to the music anew.

I will admit that I am a sucker for compositional psychedelica when it is done as well as it is here. Anyone who feels similarly should not miss Obscure Knowledge. It's a definite goodie.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

IZZ, Everlasting Instant

IZZ? Well, yes, IZZ. It's an alt-prog rock, song centered outfit that gives us some excellently arranged, very memorable music in the third part of their thematic trilogy, Everlasting Instant (Doone 12-669563). Tom Galgano, keyboardist and one of the principal lead vocalists, heads up the ensemble and takes up production duties with a flair here.

Along with Tom are co-vocalists Anmarie Byrnes and Laura Meade. John Galgano plays bass, some guitar and shares in the vocal duties. The songs set up the need for expressive vocalizations and IZZ comes through. But it's also the sort of music that extends a prog-alt instrumental virtuosity in original ways, so there is good work from Paul Bremner on electric guitar, the drumming of Brian Coralian and Greg DiMiceli, and the keys and bass of Tom and John. They have varied roles to play according to the song at hand. It is together, sophisticated prog that excels in avoiding the cliches of the style, not hearkening back so much as moving forward.

This is moody song fare that manages to innovate within a well-worn path, so much so that the ground shifts a bit underneath your musical feet.

If you dig the progressive arts and/or alt rock, this one is for you! Nicely done. Bravo.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lucia Comnes, Love. Songs & Tyranny

If Lucia Comnes makes music that doesn't fit my usual avenues of listening, I nevertheless find her album Love, Songs & Tyranny (Delfina DR384-LC07) of interest. She is a country rock singer-songwriter who vocalizes well, plays characteristic fiddle and guitar and puts her songs across directly and effectively.

I like the thrust of this one. I cannot say that it is an exemplar of virtuoso guitar work. It isn't. She plays the fiddle more than the guitar and perhaps is the better on that instrument. But this one is not about chops. It's about songs, though the instrumental backing is consistently good.

And the songs have substance, stay in the mind.

I find on repeated listens that there are some definitely nice things to hear on this one.

So if you like some tuneful stuff, here it is.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Michael Gibbs and the NDR Big Band, Play a Bill Frisell Set List

Michael Gibbs deserves more recognition as a jazz composer-arranger than he has been getting of late. Ever since the sixties he has given us some excellent charts. The NDR Big Band is one of the top outfits in Europe. Bill Frisell is a guitarist among the handful of major innovators active in jazz today. Put the three together and you get Michael Gibbs and the NDR Big Band Play A Bill Frisell Set List (Cuneiform Rune 400).

It is a beautiful showcase for Bill Frisell and his solo power, but it is also a masterful set of charts showing us Michael Gibbs at his best, and an opportunity to let us hear the NDR Big Band in full strength, full flower.

From the opening Gil Evans "Las Vegas Tango" through the Gibbs originals and forward, Frisell gives us his extraordinary versatile solo guitar style with the lush and stirring big band arrangements by Gibbs. The NDR outfit sounds just great. Jeff Ballard gets featured on the drum throne for this date and they all rise to the occasion.

What is striking is how Gibbs' charts articulate the sectional and tutti power of the NDR outfit while still allowing lots of space for Frisell in all his glory. Bill swings along in his own special way with the band, gives us beautiful note and chord choices, and shows exactly why he is a master.

He shares the space at times with some very good soloists and of course with the three-dimensional Gibbs charts.

For Frisell, for Gibbs and for the NDR band, this one excels. You should not miss it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pete Oxley, Nicolas Meier, Chasing Tales

Sometimes, when all the chemistry is there and the moment is right, a duo recording can go beyond the ordinary and achieve a kind of orbital launch. The fuel and the rocket put together make for results that move forward in special ways. That analogy holds true for the meeting of guitarists Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier on their album Chasing Tales (MGP 016).

Nicolas Meier has been playing with the Jeff Beck Group of late and does some very nice things on acoustic guitar, nylon-stringed and otherwise. He is well-schooled and has jazz, flamenco and mid-eastern influences in the mix of his own stylistic guitarisms. Pete Oxley started out in the UK as a rock guitarist, then shedded heavily under the influence of Metheny, Gismonti and Scofield to emerge eventually in his own right as a singular jazz artist. He plays both electric and acoustic on this duo effort.

The two together create an eclectically formidable melodic-harmonic amalgam of beautiful sound. They each contribute compositions notable for the interesting changes underpinning the solos. If you detect something of classic ECM spaciousness in this music, that certainly ramifies with what I hear. It is music that goes outward from the lyric sophistication of some of the classic jazz guitar sides made on ECM, but enters its own turf with fine original guitar playing from both artists. The solo-versus-changes orientation, featuring each artist alternately, gives us plenty of nice music and a close look at the solo styles of each. There are memorable melodic strains to be heard as well.

It's the sort of album you can listen to closely with great profit or put on to enter a twilight world of dreamtime beauty. But make no mistake, these are two guitarists that have a good deal going for them. You hear them out front and inspired on Chasing Tales.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cheryl Pyle and Bern Nix, Beyond Duo

The meeting of flautist Cheryl Pyle and guitarist Bern Nix has led to some excellent sounds. They appeared for a live gig at Art of A Gallery some months ago and luckily the "tapes" were rolling. A nice recording of the gig is available for download as Beyond Duo (11th Street Music).

Many will remember Bern Nix as a key guitarist in Ornette Coleman's Prime Time electric band (RIP to the great Ornette). He's kept going, developing, unfolding his stylistic universe. On his duet with Cheryl here he plays an acoustic guitar, rolling out both lines and chords that skyrocket the music and give a challenging tapestry of sound that inspire Ms. Pyle to go forward to a realm most certainly "beyond."

Cheryl as always has a beautiful flute tone and an original improv-melodic concept that incorporates both new music and jazz elements. Bern Nix feeds her some very thoughtful and original spontaneities that allow the duo to soar and thrive in the process.

The harmonic and linear ideas Bernie expresses must be heard by anyone interested in the possibilities of freedom as made real on the guitar. Cheryl gets the inspiration to outdo herself and in the process we get 45 excellent minutes of DIY immediacy.

Do a Google to find the download. It's very worthwhile music!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Charlie Rauh, Innocent Speller

Guitarist Charlie Rauh did some notable work in duet with violinist-vocalist Concetta Abbate that I covered here (do search in top box for those). Now he steps ahead on his own for some very memorable composition-improvisations on his new EP Innocent Speller (Composers Concordance 0024). It's Charlie out front with some beautiful playing, aided by Jake Thro on electric bass, cello and electric piano and Robin Rauh on pedal steel.

The music has a sort of lyrical, post-ECM presence. Six pieces give us music with a special harmonic-melodic flourish that brings out Charlie's magic touch. There is an introspective element that sets the music apart, with spacious sound-staging focusing on the crystalline guitar sound. The atmospheric mood sustains us throughout. There is beauty here, great beauty.

This may at first remind you of other things but then in time asserts its special identity.

Gorgeous music, very well played. Hear it!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ligro, Dictionary 3

Indonesian guitarist Agam Hamza is something special as is his avant jazz-rock trio Ligro. They show us growth and fire on their third album, the second in international release, Dictionary 3 (MoonJune 072).

August 30, 2012 seems like ages ago, but that was when I reviewed their Dictionary 2 on these pages. They have continued to evolve, so that Dictionary 3 is further along, more and more accomplished and original.

With Agam once again is Adi Darmawan on electric bass and Gusti Hendy on drums. For the first tune they are joined by Indonesian keymaster Ade Irawan.

I remember a Rolling Stone review in my younger years (1970) of Soft Machine's Third, referring to them as "the thinking man's rock group." It got my attention and I bought the album, happily. In a way Ligro is the "thinking person's avant rock group." They too spend considerable effort to come up with their own sound, both compositional and improvisational. They too give the listener something to think about.

Agam plays a very electric guitar with close attention to an elevated electric sound and a colorful, thoughtful choice of notes. The third album makes that ever more clear and puts him in an increasingly original light. The bass playing of Adi and the drumming of Gusti complement what Agam does with driving, open, non-cliche musical sense.

Put the three together and you have something excellent to hear, outside the mainstream in intelligent ways, exploratory and adventuresome, yet with compositional heft. I love their avant rock adaptation of Messiaen's "Quartet for the End of Time," an excellent choice and sounding just right for some heavy sonics. But the whole album has that something about it that makes for absorbing repeated listening.

If you respond to something strongly out yet very driving in an advanced rock realm, this is for you. Agam is a key guitarist out there and the trio a key group. Their best yet. Hear it by all means.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gao Hong and Friends, Pipa Potluck, Lutes Around the World

The convergence of music and the world has accelerated in the last century or so, thanks to modern developments in technology and transportation. Nowadays many musically inclined members of the earth's population have the opportunity to hear and appreciate diverse world music traditions that were once isolated to the regions from where they originated.

An excellent example of the convergent possibilities can be found in the recent album by Gao Hong and Friends, Pipa Potluck (Innova 916), subtitled "Lutes Around the World." Gao Hong is an excellent exponent of the Chinese lute named the pipa. She gathers for this recording some very notable players of other stringed instruments, mostly lutes by definition, from various world traditions. Gao and her friends produce a remarkable series of pieces that call upon traditions and create new music as well that combines such traditions in unprecedented ways.

Ms. Hong is joined by some fabulous players: George Kahumoku, Jr. on the Hawaiian slack key guitar, Jeffrey Van on guitar in the bluegrass tradition, the bluegrass-and-beyond fiddles of Darol Anger and Matt Combs, banjo by Alison Brown, Yair Dalal and Bassam Saba, both on the Mid-Eastern oud, plus bass (Gary West) and percussion (Dror Sinai and April Centrone).

This is a wonderful tribute to the flexibility of Gao Hong's musical approach and of course of all of her friends. We are treated to unusual combinations of Chinese, bluegrass, Hawaiian and Mid-Eastern music. Throughout we get some marvelous playing and some ingenious multi-cultural adaptations. It is great fun and seriously good fusion of the true sort.

Do not hesitate to get this. It's one-of-a-kind and a fabulous listen.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Double-Bass, This is Not Art, Benjamin Duboc, Jean-Luc Petit

The free music world has become infinitely plastic, completely malleable and as a result unpredictable. Take the duo Double-Bass and their album This is Not Art (Clean Feed 333). It consists of bassist extraordinaire Benjamin Duboc (type his name in the search box above for more reviews of his music) and the equally strong Jean-Luc Petit on contrabass clarinet. The apt name of the duo is a play on words, of course. Duboc plays the double bass and at the same time there are two bass instruments in this duo.

The group name is playful and the two lengthy improvisations on the album are playful yet quite serious. Duboc we have already seen can be very effective as a solo bassist, with lots of good ideas and a timbral sensitivity that goes far in creating music of interest. Jean-Luc Petit is the contrabass clarinet counterpart for this improvisational encounter, with an equal sensitivity to the timbral richness of his instrument.

The two most definitely hit the ground running on this one, complementing each the other with sound structures in motion that mesh well with one another and unfold a universe of low sounds and falsetto-like upper registers. They bring out the richness, the graininess, the colorfulness of the sound available through conventional and extended techniques. And it all has real musicality to it.

Free avant music has increasingly gained open-field possibilities these days. Duboc and Petit show us how such openness gives rise when things are right to an unpredictable series of musical events, to sonic adventure. These are two players at the top of their game! They give lovers of the lower depths much to explore and appreciate.

Highly recommended!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Joshua Breakstone, 2nd Avenue, The Return of the Cello-Quartet

Joshua Breakstone plays some excellent bop guitar. He is as vibrant an exponent of the traditional bop style as anybody out there today. He has a considerable line-creating inventiveness that rivals the greats. I've covered a fair amount of his music here and in Cadence when I wrote for them. His new album reaffirms his importance with four trio tracks and five reuniting his cello quartet from the 2014 date With the Wind and the Rain.

2nd Avenue (Capri 74137-2) is the name of the new one. With Joshua are the excellent players Lisle Atkinson on bass and Andy Watson, drums, a perfect rhythm section for the swinging Breakstone approach. For the Cello Quartet numbers Mike Richmond's cello returns.

The repertoire is lively and unexpected. Joshua unearths neglected treasures like Cannonball's "Home," Konitz's "Thingin'," Dexter's "Evergreenish," plus some American Songbook items like "The Lamp is Low." Finally there are some excellent blowing vehicles in Joshua's title tune and "Hit It" by Lisle.

The numbers with the full quartet have that special sound in arrangements and solos with the pizzicato cello. It's a beautiful blend and of course will remind you favorably of the things Oscar Pettiford did on his own and with Duke and Strayhorn. But as an extension into today.

This is an album that keeps growing on you as you hear it. There are no wasted notes. Everything is centered and central, sounding as current as can be yet working its way out of bop tradition.

Strongly recommended!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mario Pavone, Blue Dialect, with Matt Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey

Anyone who has listened closely to the free-avant zone of jazz over the years has come to know double-bassist Mario Pavone as one of the most innovative, consistently creative practitioners of the art. He rarely comes to us as a leader of a date, but that is just what he does on the intriguing set Blue Dialect (Clean Feed 319).

He has chosen his bandmates with care. Pianist Matt Mitchell is fast becoming a pianist of genuine stature with some excellent work as a member of Tim Berne's Snakeoil and in other projects. Drummer Tyshawn Sorey rides at the top of the new wave of avant jazz drummers. Both together create a potent 2/3rds of the trio.

Mario presides with some excellent bass playing and a set of compositions (eight in all, with an additional number that is a collective improv) that are provocative and modern.

The tensile strength of the trio grabs you on first hearing and the impression remains in subsequent listens. Everybody pulls much weight for a moving result.

If Matt Mitchell gives us an open, blowing horn sort of pianism here, it fits the character of the compositions and gives lots of latitude for bass and drums to swing busily yet primally. The three-way interaction may extend outward from and simultaneously remind you of the classic Paul Bley trios of earlier days. That certainly fits with Mario's excellent inward-outward bass playing stance. Tyshawn and Matt excel in their interpretations of their respective roles. This is not a glace backward so much as it is a journey forward with a mindfulness of the roots.

The results are beautiful. You should hear this one.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dreadnaught, Gettin' Tight with Dreadnaught

The prog rock juggernaught Dreadnaught returns with a new EP, Gettin' Tight with Dreadnaught (Red Fez Records). I've covered their music here before (type in search box above for those articles). If anything they have gotten more accomplished and complex in their guitar-keys-bass-drum routines. They give us some 20 minutes of music that presses the prog virtuoso possibilities to the edge but then does not forget to include the song-vocal elements.

It's a recording that packs a punch. The songs are at times as innovative as the instrumental routines, though they may not have an anthemic radio sort of presence, meaning they are unlikely to be found played on top-40 rock stations, if such a thing still exists.

But what do we care about that? This is driving prog that will satisfy those who seek something new and beyond in the genre and perhaps will win over those who flirt with the fringes of the scene.

In any event this is a great listen! Recommended.