Friday, October 30, 2015

Nadav Lev, New Strings Attached

As always this blog is about guitar and bass playing in virtually any style. Today we delve into contemporary modern classical works that include classical acoustic or electric guitar, as nicely presented on Nadav Lev's New Strings Attached (DELOS 3488). The album is subtitled "Contemporary Music for Guitar by Young Israeli Composers," and that indeed is what we have.

Nadav Lev is a guitarist of both traditional and unconventional virtuosity. The works, six by six composers, cover a wide range of new music attitudes and chamber styles. Nadav himself plus Gilad Cohen, Yair Klartag, Jonathan Keren, Guy Barash and Ronnie Reshef each contribute a composition or composition set.

All of them give us some magnificent guitar realizations that are at times mind-boggling. Along with Lev's continual and vital presence is a spectrum of fellow performers: the Mivos String Quartet, mezzo-soprano Rinat Shaham, violinist Miranda Cuckson, soprano Tehila Nini-Goldstein, mezzo-soprano Re'ut Ben-Ze'ev and the live electronics of Guy Barash.

The music is contemporary avant and uniformly worthwhile. The guitar work is excellent and sometimes even astonishing. Lev is a master!

If you want to be exposed to something exceptional and have a sense of adventure, New Strings Attached gives you all of that without fail!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cunao, Sangre y Arena

For those in search of something new yet laced with tradition, I would suggest to you the band Cunao and their new album Sangre y Arena. It is an outfit based in Los Angeles, filled with the spirit of traditional music from South America, centered on song form, vocals, acoustic guitar, violin, accordion, bass, percussion and etc. It is in the presence and beauty of the songs in performance, the instrumental strengths of the players and the whole-cloth success of the tracks that put Cunao in a special place. South American, African and North American rock elements join together in a very appealing sort of mix.

This is not their first album, but no matter. This one is very good and you can always look up their earlier efforts if you find Sangra y Arena as compelling as I do.

It has a new village kind of authenticity, yet it is a seamless blend that is all theirs in the end. Give it a listen! Then smile? Yes, definitely.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Lou Volpe, Remembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra)

Lou Volpe, the consummate jazz and session vet guitarist, comes front and center to do something one might not expect. He has gathered together some very hip sideman to record an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra. Remembering Ole Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra) (Jazz Guitar Records 917) turns Lou and his band, including pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs, loose on 13 chestnuts that Frank phrased and finessed his way through over the years. And then there is a concluding tribute-original.

From "That's Life" to "It Was A Very Good Year," you get some of the most memorable but also some of the most conducive tunes for the patented bluesy-jazz-funk Volpe treatment.

To hear Lou in action here is to hear a man who has created his own way through the guitar maze. He sounds as great as ever. The arrangements give it a sheen that is sometimes referred to as "radio-friendly," and so it will likely have a wide appeal.

But forget all that and LISTEN to Lou. He makes the melody lines his own with the nuance that Frank embodied, not literally so much as parallel, as two artists concerned with owning an interpretation of a song.

Lou certainly does that. All those years, all those sessions, the interactions with some of the best, all culminate in the Lou Volpe of today. He succeeds in making a living, soulful guitar organism out of what otherwise might at times be just another "smooth jazz" bit of glitz. Not here, though, not with Lou carrying on so convincingly. Bopping, bluesing, taking on a song and taking ownership of it authoritatively.

In the end, the songs are great and Lou is too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Harvey Valdes, Roundabout

We have encountered guitarist Harvey Valdes on the blogs before, but this is his first solo guitar venture (that I know of) and it shows a side of him both surprising and impressive. Roundabout (self released) involves a set of nine standards, Harvey Valdes and his electric guitar, and a lot of imagination and chops.

Valdes channels the note-chordal traditions of the guitar as someone like Joe Pass did so well. Harvey picks his standards carefully and creates a beautiful contemporary original take on that tradition. The harmonic sense of the playing is superb, the inventive results all his own and the music ravishing to hear.

Whether it is a matter of Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," Miles' "Blue in Green" or the chestnut "Stella By Starlight" one gains a new appreciation of the possibilities of the songs by their thorough and brilliant harmonizations and an unparalleled improvisational insightfulness.

This is guitar artistry at the highest levels, make no mistake. Everything is right there for you to hear. Nothing is overplayed but you most certainly do not feel that is in any way incomplete.

Anyone with an understanding of the guitar and its reluctance to yield blissful results will no doubt wish she or he could play like this. If you actually do, then you will recognize a close kinship with Harvey. For the rest of us, we can only marvel at his abilities and enjoy to the fullest.

Roundabout will wow you. This I vow!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Evan Parker, Joe Morris, Nate Wooley, Ninth Square

When you think of a possible trio of avant all-stars, improv freedom and jazz ahead music, you could do worse than think of Evan Parker, Joe Morris and Nate Wooley. A lot worse. Each is in his own way an outstanding avant stylist. Evan Parker is no doubt the best known, has the legendary reputation of a reed player of undoubted originality, importance, soul and flow. Nate Wooley is fast becoming one of the avant's most significant trumpet men. And Joe Morris is a world unto himself on the acoustic and electric guitar.

So when these three join together you expect some fireworks. And that is exactly what you get on Ninth Square (Clean Feed 335). It's the three getting it very together live at Firehouse 12 in New Haven last year.

There are torrents of notes. Not just any notes. Notes that suggest an overflowing of spirit, an ambiguity of tonal center at times, a timbre-rich confluence of energy. Now that is certainly what Evan Parker is known for and does so well. And he sounds as good as ever here. Nate is in the mode, too. He knows how to respond and counter the stream with one that goes well with the others. And he sounds terrific. Now anyone who has picked up a guitar should know that a torrent of chromatic and otherwise outside notes is no easy matter (not that it is with horns, either). It is not an intuitively given possibility of the guitar. It takes a lot of preparatory shedding and a sense of where you are going.

Joe Morris excels at this kind of playing. He is at the very top of guitarists who can take it out in smart torrents. And he shows us how he is pretty much the perfect guitarist to join with Parker and Wooley in noteful avant expression. And like the horn virtuosi here, he varies the timbre and attack, the manner of note production, the color of the sound.

So that's why this album is posted here on the guitar blog, though of course it would equally be home on the Gapplegate Music Blog as well. It's for Joe to have the ability and imagination to engage in this sort of dialog with two horn masters of the idiom.

It is a beast of a set. It shows the three in excellent form, running on all cylinders, creating overall smears of vibrant expression.

It's not just music for guitar players to hear and marvel at, of course. This is music for three equal partners in sound generation. Fine music. Out music. Open up to this and go places!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Peter Kowald & Damon Smith, Mirrors - Broken But No Dust

Peter Kowald was one of the greatest avant jazz improv bassists alive before his untimely demise. Damon Smith was and is an important bassist on the scene as well, very deserving of our attention. The two recorded an extended album of duets when Peter made a rather triumphant tour of the US in 2000. It has been out of print for a while but happily is now again available as an audio cassette. Mirrors - Broken But No Dust (BPA 001) brings us the music in all its glory.

What is perhaps most striking about the duets is the incredible rapport established between the two. Whether a hornets nest of busy pizzicato, an ethereal thicket of bowed harmonics or a jungle of slapped string tones, the two form a perfect interlocking of duality-in-singularity.

It is music of great energy, manic expression, exuberant simultaneity. It gives you improvisational segments of sonic unity and virtuoso outness.

For a supremely unified two-bass expression, this recording has few rivals. Grab it while you can. Contrabass aficionados take note. A two-bass hit!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rotem Sivan Trio, A New Dance

A new jazz guitarist on the scene? Get in line! No, seriously, there are some great new players out there, new to me anyway, and I try to cover the best of them when their music crosses my path.

One of them surely is Rotem Sivan. He has an album out, the Rotem Sivan Trio's A New Dance (Fresh Sound New Talent 480) and I have been digging into it and digging it. He is a sort of post-Abercrombie player with some prodigious chops, an electric sound that has purity in a spacey way but also can get an edgy distorted sound, too. His version of "Angel Eyes" may startle you with its suspensions, its bass (Haggai Cohen-Milo) carrying of the melody, and its very rockish guitar eloquence. So Haggai very nicely covers the bass realm (and solos in distinguished fashion) and Colin Stranahan does very subtle but very well-turned drum work.

But this is Rotem's moment in the spotlight primarily, and he comes through with some impressively wrought guitar mastery. There are a bunch of originals that stand out and a couple of standards.

What strikes me is his harmonic sense in tandem with a sharply etched ability to weave magical lines. Really, this is a player with a very sophisticated feel for what can be done, but also an immediacy, a sense of expressive fire when needed and a quietly devastating approach when not.

Rotem conceives of his music as a "dance of sounds," which explains the title but also the music as a whole. It does dance. It does dance very extraordinarily well.

Here's a ringer, a guitarist of true merit. Grab this album and enter his very substantial world!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Frank Kohl Quartet, Invisible Man

Frank Kohl has a nice way about him in the mainstream jazz guitar zone. He grew up digging Wes, Pat Martino, George Benson, then John McLaughlin. He went to Berklee and graduated with honors. He put out an album while he was gigging around New York, then moved to Seattle in 1990, where he still holds forth.

There's a new album, Invisible Man (PONY Boy 501783-2) and I've been listening to it. Frank has recruited bassist Steve LaSpina, pianist Tom Kohl and drummer Jon Doty for the album, put together five nicely done compositions and three standards and let loose.

The band swings along well and Frank has a spotlight role on guitar, spelled nicely by Tom Kohl as second soloist, but then we hear from Steve on bass solo, too.

Frank shows his roots with some Wes-&-George-inspired harmonic and melodic touches and furthers his own sort of post-bop/hard-bop take on it all. He is poised, polished and swingingly lined/aligned throughout. It's all good music. It shows Frank off well as a thorough stylist and imaginative improviser. It's a nice listen.

Good show!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ballake Sissoko, Vincent Segal, Musique de Nuit

Any string player of ambition and, for that matter, any serious listener to music as a universal cultural heritage should hear and immerse oneself in some of the great kora (stringed harp) players of Western Africa. So I post something here on the guitar blog for that reason. It's more than the usual too because it pairs the phenomenal kora player Ballake Sissoko with the fine cellist Vincent Segal in a series of duos, Musique de Nuit (Six Degrees 657036-1228-2-6).

What is striking beyond the fine playing to be heard here is the way, via alternating compositions by each, there is a fascinating and moving rapport firmly and creatively established between traditional-modern African approaches and cello-centered European elements, between Mali and Paris.

There is nothing that sounds offhand about this meeting of the ways. Both artists listen carefully to one another and fashion some excellent working two-part dialogs, totalities where the two are one with all kinds of varying possibilities. This is music that has been intelligently arranged, rehearsed and intimately realized. The results are spectacular.

The atmospheric realm this music occupies is poetically explained by Vincent: "The night is a special time in Mali. It's a little less hot, and everyone's asleep apart from the night owls like us. The city's not as noisy, music mixes with rumor, and there's something redeeming about simply sitting outside and playing. That's what we tried to capture here, that freedom the night can bring."

Once described in such terms, the music rings true as that. And that destination is especially made beautiful by the musical freshing out Sissoko and Segal give to it all.

The music is wondrous! Beautiful! More I need not say. An exceptional disk.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Marcelo dos Reis, Angelica V. Salvi, Concentric Rinds

The album up for discussion today is a winner on all counts. What we have are eight improvisatory duets between acoustic guitarist Marcelo dos Reis and harpist Angelica V. Salvi. The music was recorded in a resonant warehouse several years ago. The resulting album is Concentric Rinds (Cipsela 004).

Both Marcelo and Angelica at times "prepare" their instruments, which means they attach various objects to the strings to give the sound an extended set of possibilities, a practice that hearkens back to John Cage and his famous "prepared piano" works.

The duo came out of several larger ensemble gatherings that included them both, back in 2012. Evan Parker who was part of the second ensemble suggested that the two try some music as a duo. The results are not exactly history as yet, but the pairing bears some beautiful fruit on this album.

There are times where the music occupies a space reminding one of classical traditional northern Asian music. Other times there is a new music, post-Feldmanesque kind of quiet thoughtfulness. Still other times there is kinetic motion and dynamics, and times when there are oblique references to jazz lining.

Throughout there is real artistry and smarts on display, born out of the acute sensitivity of the artists toward their instruments and the sound possibilities that can be generated, and a very cohesive mutual openness to what the other is doing at any given point.

It is music of supreme beauty, harp and guitar playing excellence, a realization of some stunning music that is avant without much in the way of cacophony or pronounced dissonance, which means that those who perhaps are not used to new music improv will more easily take to this music than might be the case otherwise.

But no matter your background. This is instrumental interaction on a very high plane. Marcelo dos Reis and Angelica V. Salvi are a perfect fit. These are two excellent players who hit it off beautifully. Get this one.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Les Ambassadeurs, Rebirth

The Mali-based Afrobeat ensemble Les Ambassadeurs were an important force on the African music scene in the '60s and the '70s. They had an irresistable combination of funk and traditional elements, a full band presence and great call and response vocals, not to mention nice guitar work.

They return to us on a recent EP Rebirth (World Village). It is the band in great form once again, filled with the hypnotic grooves, the riffing hipness, great horn lines and vocal soul.

It is 20-minutes of stirring music. I find it very stimulating. Great!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Animation, Machine Language, with Bob Belden

Jazz artist Bob Belden has left us. But before he went he gave us something to contemplate and appreciate, namely Machine Language (rarenoise 34849 2-LP or single CD) by his band Animation.

I suppose the first thing to note is that this is advanced electric jazz-rock in the lineage of Miles Davis in his classic fusionoide phase that ended when he broke up the band with Pete Cosey in the middle '70s. It has that aura but with its own singularity. There is no copying. The band is an excellent one, with Bill Laswell on electric bass doing things that get your ears. Bob is on sax/flute, Pete Clagett plays a post-Milesian trumpet, Matt Young plays elaborate rock-funk drums and Roberto Verastegui plays some very atmospheric, very electronic keys. Joining as narrator (and sounding a little bit Rod Serling-like) is the well-known Kurt Elling.

First a little on the narration. It is the story of humanity, especially a brilliant child, and computers. It is highly interesting, about the encroachment of machine thinking into our world and how that may ultimately change us irrevocably, or...

Now the narrative sets the mood for the music, which is ultra-modern and very much in keeping with the story line. It stands on its own, surely, as something very interesting in a "post?"-fusion mode. Spacey, filled with Belden's worthy compositional ideas and some nice sax soloing now and again, the music is much more than riff and groove. (And Laswell himself has a way with building variations into the riff so that it becomes much more than itself at any rate.)

It is an ideal meld of thought-provoking story with advanced electric jazz. It will remind you of Miles' Directions and Hancock's Mwandishi without being in any way a Xerox copy of any of it.

It makes me quite sad that Bob Belden had to part from us. He was getting into some very good things here. Give it your ears by all means.

Friday, October 9, 2015

J. Asling Roots and Friends, The Stockholm Sessions

Here we are on a much welcome Friday morning. Or here I am anyway. You may be reading this later or in another time zone. The music keeps coming. As long as it does this blog will stay open for business for a while longer. If the submissions get more sporadic it will be integrated into the Gapplegate Music Blog in the coming months.

So today we have a nice surprise in the blues-roots music of J. Asling Roots & Friends, namely The Stockholm Sessions (DO Music Records 028). Music from Northern Europe that has its own way with blues-rock-folk trad...

This is J. Asling, his rootsy tunes, appealing vocals, very crafty mostly electric guitar work, and his friends--Sven Eric Lundeqvist on piano & Hammond, Magnes Edring on banjo and dobro (!), Mick Elofsson on electric bass, and P.A. Tollbom on drums. A few guests join in from time to time, Sven Zetterberg for one, on harmonica and second guitar on a couple of tracks.

It's soulful stuff, with Asling's guitar laying down some fine lines, his vocals having a convincing kind of DIY immediacy. And the band is first-rate, too. Dig Edring's dobro, which makes for an excellent contrast to Asling on electric.

There are enough contemporary elements and a unique tunefulness that this goes beyond a straight revival sort of thing and into original directions.

You hear this a few times and you start getting how it is different, or at least I did. It's good music and lots of fun, too.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

John Schott, Actual Trio

Today we have a fine electric guitarist, John Schott, and his Actual Trio (Tzadik 4011). This is the trio's debut recording, a studio affair with the threesome of long standing very much on it. Joining John is double bassist Dan Seamans and drummer John Hanes.

What hits you is the very nice loping-swinging of the band, the compositions and their sometimes intricate nature, and the way the band resonates with both the roots of jazz and the beyond qualities of avantness adding a little spice and color.

Seamans plays in a great ensemble walking style and can solo with good ideas. Hanes gives us subtle, first-rate time throughout.

And beyond all that is the guitar artistry of John Schott. He has his roots in Seattle, where he studied with Gary Peacock and Julian Priester. He was a founding member with Ben Goldberg with the group Junk Genius, an integral member of T.J. Kirk, leader of the 16-piece ensemble Diglossia, and a part of recordings by John Zorn, Tom Waits and Steven Bernstein. This is his third album.

Schott manages to channel the roots of jazz guitar while adding considerably to it with a vibrant sense of chordal color, line-constructing inventiveness and chops harnessed to the musical objective at hand, and a modal/changes/beyond sense that lays right and satisfyingly at all points.

There is no doubt that John Schott is a guitar master stylist. You can hear it in action from the beginning to the end of this set. I suspect there is much more to come from Maestro Schott. Meanwhile be sure to give this one your ears.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hommage a Eberhard Weber, Pat Metheny, Jan Garbarek, Gary Burton, Michael Gibbs, SWR Big Band, etc.

Eberhard Weber has been one of the innovative bassists of our era, without a doubt. His many recordings as a leader and sideman on ECM are seminal. He is a bassist with a special sound, a lyrical acuity and a compositional approach to soloing that sets him in the highest echelon of players of our time. And of course his compositions themselves are of a piece with his musical approach and wonderful in themselves. A stroke in 2007 put an end to his playing, very sadly. But he has made several excellent recordings in later years by taking live bass solos that were captured on tape and orchestrating them. (You can type his name in the search box above for more on that.)

For the occasion of his 75th birthday earlier this year a special concert took place at the Stuttgart Theaterhaus with many of his friends and close associates. Hommage a Eberhard Weber (ECM 2463) is the result of that happy gathering.

On it is featured a special 30-minute work written by Pat Metheny especially for the concert, "Hommage," as played by the SWR Big Band and soloists, including Pat. Featured as well is "Resume Variations" composed by Weber, with looped and resituated Weber bass solos and some fine improvisations by Jan Garberek.

Ralph Schmid, Michael Gibbs, Rainer Tempel, and Libor Sima each arrange a Weber composition for the SWR Band and soloists, with fine results.

And what soloists! In addition to the presence of Metheny, Garbarek and SWR Big Band members, joining them on stage are Gary Burton, Scott Colley, Danny Gottlieb, Paul McCandless, Klaus Graf (alto) and Ernst Hutter (euphonium).

The result is some excellent music and fabulous sonarities. It is a most fitting tribute to the master, yes, and some very fine music in its own right. Essential listening.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kid Millions & Sarah Bernstein, Live at Gravesend, Feb. 11, 8 PM

Cassettes are back! I've noticed some cassette-only releases lately. Now I have been sent one! It is in beautifully primitive analogue sound. It features Kid Millions on drums and Sarah Bernstein on very electric violin and ritualistic vocals. It is Volume 5 in the "Gravesend After Hours" series (Gravesend Recordings). So not surprisingly it is entitled Live at Gravesend Feb. 11, 8 PM.

I've always found Sarah's music to be well worth hearing. Kid Millions I do not know by that name, but for this set he really kicks up some torrid overdrive drumming.

Sarah is filled with the energy of quasi-metal violin freedom and when she vocalizes you think New York city is occupied by at least one tribe, which of course it is.

It's totally unpretentious heavy freedom that for me anyway has something about it that sets it apart. It's edgy underground stuff, which the cassette release and the cover art only serve to further underscore.

I suppose I should say that this is not for the timid, nor does it run through standards or swing in some conventional way. All that is cool, too, but that is not THIS.

What it is, it is without a doubt. And the hearing of it initiates you into the tribe and creates some kind of magic. What tribe? You know, THE tribe.

Get it if you want some heavy-duty obscurity that is really very good.