Friday, January 29, 2016

North of Blanco, Jaap Blonk, Sandy Ewen, Damon Smith, Chris Cogburn

From the rich cache of recent albums steered into musical port by eminently capable helmsman, bassist Damon Smith, I put forward yet another interesting offering for your consideration, North of Blanco (bpa 016). It is a free, extended timbred improvisational quartet that strikes musical gold with six shorter to more extended segments.

In this foursome are Jaap Blonk on vocals and electronics, Sandy Ewen on guitar and objects, Chris Cogburn on percussion and Damon on prepared double bass.

The emphasis with this outing is to realize advanced sonic sculpting, to create textures and ambiant universes that rely on the creative instincts of all four participants to create extra-musical sounds from, if you will pardon the overused phrase, "outside the box."

That means that Jaap Blonk lets loose with considered vocalizations from within the realms of human capabilities, not just "singing" as such but phonemic percussives, unpitched and pitched utterances and otherwise choosing from the full gamut of soundings available to him as human exponent.

Damon's prepared bass, whether bowed, plucked, scraped or sounded in whatever way necessary, creates an extended universe of textures and timbres that complement Jaap and his effusions.

The same can be said of the distinctive soundings of guitarist Sandy Ewen (who we covered recently with a duet album with Henry Kaiser) and percussionist Chris Cogburn.

The result is an iconoclastic mix of noise-pitch freedom that all who like the outer realms will no doubt readily respond to as I have. Beautiful sounds of deep listening and measured utterance!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Magic Sam Blues Band, Black Magic, Deluxe Edition

Chicago's Magic Sam was one of the most original voices and guitarists in the soul blues revolution that hit fully by the late '60s. He recorded two albums on Delmark and captured the loyalty of local audiences in the clubs. He was on the verge of national popularity when the Black Magic album hit the streets. He had a Stax record contract in hand and all was about to fall in place when he died unexpectedly at age 32 on December 1, 1969. That finished it all but his legend lives on today, principally via the two glorious studio albums he recorded for Delmark.

The second and last record, Black Magic (Delmark DE 620) is now available in a new Deluxe Edition with eight additional tracks and alternatives (two totally unreleased until now, five appearing originally on The Magic Sam Legacy). The edition includes a new 16-page booklet with additional liner notes and photos from the studio.

The ultimate package is an essential item in anyone's blues collection. It has all the hallmarks of Magic Sam's inimitable vocal style, his guitar rootedness seconded by Mighty Joe Young, and a crack Magic Sam Blues Band that is out to capture your soul.

The original album is all there, of course, Sam's timeless vocals and west side Chicago electricity. The full edition gives you nearly 70 minutes of music, the legend at a peak. The sound is all at Delmark standards and in the end, the promise of Sam's brilliance is all there to hear, fulfilled!

A terrific one to have! A blues must!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Albert Collins & The Icebreakers, Live at Rockpalast - Dortmund 1980, DVD-CD Set

Albert Collins was a blues guitarist of originality and stature, a vocalist with plenty of soul, an artist with a vibrant blues totality that marked him as one of the finest bluesmen of his generation. He may be gone but he lives on in his music. A fine live 90 minute appearance with a solid band greets and moves us on the recent 2-CD/1-DVD set Albert Collins & The Icebreakers Live at Rockpalast - Dortmund 1980 (MIG 90632).

It's a strong backing quartet centered around tenor and singer A. C. Reed, and Albert in fine form with his electrifying vocals, the signature neck-position humbucker Telecaster, the capo, and Albert weaving his pickless blues spells as only he could do. It is instructive and fun seeing his playing in full visual glory. The body language of his live show reminds you how much his vocal and guitar style were GESTURAL, leaving space and heightening tension almost conversationally. He is on it instrumentally and vocally for this German TV live series and we feel like we are there with very decent sound and crisp visuals.

They run through a long set and we get the full aura of Albert live. This one is a boon for blues guitar fans! Check it out by all means!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sandy Ewen & Henry Kaiser, Lake Monsters

The helter-skelter, considered mayhem of avant electric guitar noise-sound color improvisation is at a premium on the recent album Lake Monsters (Balance Point Acoustics BPALTD 606), a collaboration between Sandy Ewen and Henry Kaiser. Sandy Ewen is a visual artist as well as a guitarist. Henry Kaiser should need no introduction as one of the avant world's and advanced jazz-rock's acclaimed exponents.

Lake Monster gives us a veritable smorgasbord of amplified guitar textures, extended techniques, smears and blots, points and masses of new guitar dueting.

This is music on the edge, the edge as art, art as spontaneous effusions of un-pedestrian or ultra-pedestrian (meaning related to everyday sonic urban space) emanations. It is less of a thing for the totally avant uninitiated as it is for those already immersed in sound art improv, but I imagine a first-comer to this sort of thing might get something out of it with repetition and focused patience. What's nice is the gamut of electric outside stances it takes and its artistic handling of them. Feedback, scronk, swipe and wipe, muted percussive clanks, there are lots of creative ways of sounding, virtually an encyclopedia in sound, and they come off with a two-way fascination and interactive verve.

It goes to many different aural-mood spaces and keeps you interested. All avant guitar fans should hear it, I'd say.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kevin Kastning, Mark Wingfield, Eleven Rooms

The days when you could say to yourself, "oh, I think I know what this sounds like" may still be with us, but it seems to me less and less so. I get a fair amount of music that I cannot say I have any intuitions about, and then others where I know the artists well enough to have a good idea. The latest album by Kevin Kastning and Mark Wingfield, Eleven Rooms (Greydisc 3528) was one of those "huh?" albums. But then when I put it on something wonderful, I mean pretty darned wonderful came out of the speakers.

It is an introspected, open-formed series of duets with Kevin Kastning on 36-string double contraguitar(!), 30-string contra-alto guitar, classical guitar and mandolin plus Mark Wingfield on electric guitar.

The combination is pretty unearthly. The 30- and 36-string guitars sound incredible, almost harp-like and Mark's electric guitar has a wonderful electric tone and noting way about it that makes him a standout player.

This is their fifth album, and it is a winner. The multi-string guitars (which Kastning invented) lay a luminous, musically distinctive backdrop (as does the classical guitar and mandolin) overtop which Wingfield crafts some wonderful ambient electric guitar lines, which are in the tradition of the ambient guitarists we know and love, yet there is a special tone he gets that distinguishes him and what he plays is marvelously musical and original.

The two together make a magic blend that takes you elsewhere in a sort of post-ECM neo-psychedelic space, but not in a predictable way. Each has a musical vision that when combined make for music you've never heard quite like this before.

It is a beautiful experience and a set of musical inventions that intrigue and keep your attention fixed at the foreground. It may be "mellow" at times, but never without real musical content. Very recommended!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Scorpions, Forever And A Day, A Documentary by Katja Von Garnier, DVD

Rock and roll is here to stay? It certainly seemed so when I was young. Nowadays rock as the common denominator pop music of the world is perhaps something that is fading. But then the "Top 40" itself is no longer what it once was, a set of songs, most of which the entire community had in their ears and would recognize as a big part of being alive then. Top 40 now appeals to a smaller and smaller margin of people, and there is no universal recognition out there, no one set of songs the world is singing along to. The burgeoning of all kinds of alternatives, musical or otherwise, has eroded into the once dominant form of music dissemination that top 40 AM stations enjoyed. There is less and less rock on those playlists, but then there is less people listening to and buying those songs, for better or worse.

All this a prelude to a documentary on the Scorpions, Germany's long-lived heavy metal-hard rock-power pop group that has existed from 1965 until now, selling multi-millions of albums/singles and at their peak one of the most ubiquitous of the arena rock stars. Katja von Garnier's film Forever and A Day (MVD Visual 7956D) tells that story, currently out as a DVD in German with English and French subtitles.

Now I must say that the subtitles are not the best. My partner and I had trouble reading them--they are small, and our eyesight is far from perfect these days, but the typeface and color of the subtitles in any event make them hard to read, especially if the color of the images underneath them is lighter, close to that of the typeface. Since 90% or so of the dialogs are in German it made the comprehension a little rough. If you have one of those big-ass widescreen TVs (we don't) and you have 20-20 vision this may not be a big deal, or of course if you are fluent in German.

That being said, the premise of the documentary is that the band, after all these years, decides it is time to retire. They go on an extensive farewell tour throughout the world and as they do the band members look back at their career. The footage of early live tours and early interviews, etc., spice up the narrative along with a good deal of their own home video-movies.

The beauty of the band at their peak, the guitar work, and the love between audiences and band all make for a moving experience. Many music videos and stagey live appearance footage you see often today attempt to imitate the arena rock vibe that the Scorpions really did have and perhaps still do. But the rapture of the youth rock world at encountering a band and music they fully love is really there to see on this documentary, and I can only say that it captures something very special and does it dramatically. Now this all was big business of course but that does not guarantee that audience and musicians would commune together to the extent that is clear on this documentary.

Scorpion fans will love this. Whether the more casually acquainted music aficionado will or not depends on how much of the subtitles you can read. There is the drama of the aging musicians and their sadness at the eventual end of the road, the end of something that they clearly love, that is the all-in-all of their lives, something they are fully loved in turn for. Sad but moving. What are they saying? I missed a lot of that....

Friday, January 15, 2016

Richard Pinhas, Chronolyse, 1978, Vinyl Reissue

What we have on hand today is the first vinyl reissue of Richard Pinhas's Chronolyse (Cuneiform). The analog synthesizer music based on "Dune" and its companion side of the 30-minute drone panorama of mellotron, guitar, bass and drums first came out in 1978 and though it shows all the elements of the advanced music of the era, it remains distinct, exciting and contemporary to my ears.

The Riley-Reich minimalist cosmos reflects itself in the hands of Pinhas, especially on the first part of the album. Yet there is an avant rock heft to it as well and an original feel to it all with its well-staged, elaborately conceived space-futurist presence.

The electric band of Pinhas on guitar, Didier Batard on bass and Francois Auger on drums deftly expand the music on side two with a cosmic jam overtop electronic drone tracks. It is an advanced music with lots of room for Pinhas on nicely post-Frippian guitar and an eventful cosmology of admirable spaciness.

I missed this one when It came out but I am very happy to make its acquaintance now. It shows us a Pinhas fully on the road he has traveled so productively, a major way-station in his musical development that compares favorably with any of the incipient psyche-trance music that was made at the time.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Sonar, Black Light

I am not one to tell people what to listen to, though of course my aim is always to persuade gently. For the album at hand I am tempted to tell you to drop everything and just order it now! That does not make for interesting reading, nor is it a good way to convince anyone.

So instead I will tell you that the Swiss group Sonar is into very good things on their recent album Black Light (Cuneiform Rune 413 CD or 2xLP). It is not their first album. I covered their Static Motion album here on May 7th of 2014, and dug it. There have been a few others before that but for now what matters is this new one.

Black Light is a mesmerizing, motorizing post-Afro, post-minimal, post-Crimsonian-Frippian trip into the contrapuntal, intricate, very rocking sound of two guitars, electric bass and drums getting into interlocking hockette. (OK, so you wont find that term on many guitar-oriented blogs. It merely means multi-voiced music with interlocking short-lengthed phrases working together.) The Mbuti did and do this in their own way, as did Medieval Europe. Sonar does it with the electricity of rock and the rocking intensity of irresistible rhythmic drive.

Bassist Christian Kuntner and drummer Manuel Pasquinelli make up the "rhythm section," though rhythm is prominent on the two guitar parts as well. Stephan Thelin is the main composer and one of the two electric guitarists. Bernhard Wagner is the other.

Together they embody a super-minimimal groove music that combines everything from surf to, as Thelin remarks on my press sheet, "Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Part Two." Well and so you might hear echoes of Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists or, duh, Terry Riley and Steve Reich.

What matters is how good this music is, how well all four conjoin to create really exciting electro-hockette. Jackson Pollock meets Duane Eddy? That's a title of one of the numbers and it may give you a further idea of what you'll hear.

This is music that will grab you right away and you will forget whatever labels you might give it. It is superior and undeniable! It puts you in a zone and keeps you there. Put some time in with this band, especially with Black Light. I do not jest, you will go to a great place.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Kinetic Element, Travelog

From Richmond, Virginia, comes the prog juggernaut Kinetic Element and their album Travelog (MRR 22112). It is a quartet with some nice guest vocalists. The quartet itself is Mike Visaggio on keyboards, Todd Russell guitars, Michael Murray on drums and Mark Tupelo on electric bass.

This is long-form arranged-composed rock that manages to forward the prog tradition of involved music without sounding derivative especially. The players are strong, the music is intriguing and interesting. An indication of where they are coming from is in the 20-minute opening suite "War Song." This is about the old expansive way of coming across, but they do so in their own way.

If prog is something you still pursue, this is a good example of what's new and interesting. Mike writes much of it, but then Todd takes on some of the song crafting, too. The overall thrust of the writing-arranging is what comes across most readily.

So you may well want to explore this band. Seems to me they are on the verge of something important, and this album shows you the excellent realization of their own vision so far.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Robert Trujillo Presents Jaco, DVD Documentary on Jaco Pastorius

Jaco Pastorius was undoubtedly the greatest electric bass guitar player we have yet to know. He skyrocketed to world renown for the brilliantly innovative sound he got from his fretless Fender Jazz Bass, he had an outstanding technical grasp of the possibilities the instrument could yield, and perhaps most importantly was a complete artist whose solo and accompanying styles made for some wonderful music no matter what the context.

The film documentary Jaco, now released as a 2-DVD set (Iron Horse/MVD Visual JO1002), gives us some great insights into the artist, his growth into an instrumental giant, his complex personality and ultimately his sad end. The film benefits greatly from the cooperation and involvement of Jaco Pastorius IV, Jaco's son, and so has a good deal of home movies made at all stages of Jaco's life, and then gives us some excellent interview segments by principal players in the drama and its unfolding, including Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, and other key associates who came to know him well. Disk One covers the entire film in 5:1 sound; Disk Two has lots of detailed interviews presented more-or-less in their entirety.

The documentary is generously spiced by some significant footage of Jaco in performance with Weather Report, his own band and with Joni Mitchell, including a rather incredible solo spot where Jaco sets up an irresistible groove via digital delay and then proceeds to give us some vintage Hendrix on outside bass. Then too we get segments of appreciation by other electric bassists and how he impacted the bass scene--so there is Sting, Bootsy Collins, etc.

What perhaps is most striking is how his quixotic personality is captured. Here was a complicated person whose brilliance was as much a cause for his own suffering as it was for a time triumphant. His skyrocketing to fame in the caustically excessive life style of '70s rock stars increasingly put pressure on him to realize big record label commercial success as at the same time he fell into a pattern of overindulgences. The high life and the pressure for more and more success was a recipe for disaster, and the bipolar condition that came to the forefront at his peak took a terrible toll. The last period of his life is vividly captured in harrowing ways and his final end breaks your heart.

The high-stakes world of the music business then was decidedly NOT a good environment for someone who in the end was much more fragile than he may have appeared. His creative forces were ultimately sapped. He became dysfunctional, his own worst enemy. Who might have saved him from his fate? The movie ends and you wonder if he might have gotten more help from those that were most a part of his life? I have no answer, for the complexities that were Jaco made him at the end difficult to reach.

This is a bio that gives you Jaco in all his triumph and in all his destructiveness. Its emphasis, perhaps understandably, is on the period of greatest fame; there is less attention to the bonafide jazz cred he established in his work with Paul Bley, Pat Metheny and such in that first period of flourishing. And in the end it is Jaco the fallen star that we see most clearly. One documentary cannot be all things, of course, and the wealth of biographic documentation, the unique person of brilliance and tragic burnout that is captured in ways you will not soon forget, that is what you are left with most poignantly. And after all, if it generates interest in the audience to explore the full discography of the master bassist, so much the better.

It is one of the best bio-documentaries I have seen on somebody from the '70s realm. It reminds you of some of the great music that was being made during the era, and positions Jaco as an important force within that scene. It gives you a heart-breaking look at a brilliant creator who was not suited for the pressures of stardom that were so volatile in those days. And it reminds you why Jaco's legacy is still key today. It will rivet you to your seat!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Eighty-Pound Pug, When Flowers Bloom in Baltimore, Alex Lozupone Project

Guitarist-leader-composer-conceptualist Alex Lozupone and his Eighty-Pound Pug project has been the subject of a review here about a month ago. Today another quite interesting album from him and Pug, When Flowers Bloom in Baltimore (self-released). It features a rather larger band live in New York City. The combined personnel is:

Alex Lozupone - guitar/bass

David Tamura - tenor

Paul Feitzinger - drums

Ayumi Ishito - soprano (+ tenor on two tracks)

Chris Bacas - alto

Borts Minorts - vocals (track 1)

Isaiah Richardson Jr - tenor, clarinet, harmonica

Eli Chalmer - trombone

Malcolm Hoyt - death vocals

Bruce Mack - vocals

Nick Kirshnit - trumpet

Julia Chen - keys

As before the backbone of the sound is Alex's metallic guitar riff-motives and free spacing moments. The rhythm section rocks loosely and the large contingent of horns has space to enter in freely and avantly. Bruce Mack's vocals (and Malcolm Hoyt's "death vocals") add an important element to the mix. Bruce Mack sounds like an evolved extension of Jack Bruce's vocal ways.

We get a full set of numbers that bring out the 80-Pound Pug sound in its full complexitity. It is a successful melding of extreme metal and free jazz, I suppose you could (and should) say.

The music comes together consistently for a fully outside brashness that after a few listens I have come to appreciate. There is nothing quite like it. The question for you is will you hear these confluences of avantness with an open mind? Both hard rock and avant jazz folks will find commonalities here if they are willing to give this noisy onslaught their sympathetic attention.

I must say that I am a convert, much as the first listen puzzled me. It hangs together as something without compromise, and uniquely insistent. Ultimately it convinced me as very worthy sound. Let your expectations go out the window and you may well find yourself digging this.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Luis Lopes, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Live at Culturgest

I have been digging Portuguese electric guitarist Luis Lopes for a while now (check the index search box for earlier reviews). So I perked up when I received his duo appearance with alto saxman Jean-Luc Guionnet from 2011, Live at Culturgest (Clean Feed 352).

It's the two of them going out there for two extended improvisations. They take no prisoners, as the saying goes, but instead hunker down to explore avant expression at some length.

Luis is a master of extreme avant noise electricity. Jean-Luc gets torque from his alto with some vibrant extreme expressions of his own. The two meld together for long-toned feedback-laced beginnings, then launch into free-flowing turbulence of the most bracing sort.

This kind of duo is no easy feat. They have total freedom and they are completely exposed with no reliance on a rhythm section to carry them through. It's just the two and an audience expecting something great.

The good news of course is that they come through admirably. Luis achieves a rolling percussiveness of tone-noise that has cohesiveness. Jean-Luc splits his alto tone, screams, cajoles, and sound-sculpts his way through the first half of the set. Part II finds them beginning with a quieter, sparser ambiance that excels in the give-and-take of out phrasings. All gradually builds into another turbulent climax, more note oriented in this section at times and quite notable for the maintenance of outside coherence, stylistic unity and creative, effective dual musical decision making.

This may take some getting used to for those who do not normally dwell on the fringes of modern improv. Those who know the ultra-extreme genre will appreciate the high creativity that the set exemplifies. Others may need to make an effort to get this, with multiple hearings. Either way though Lopes and Guionnet give us some dramatic, tensile strength that will exhilarate if you give it half a chance.


Monday, January 4, 2016

John Abercrombie, The First Quartet, 1978-1980, Box Set

The coming to full stylistic maturity of John Abercrombie gave the world a guitarist that lucidly straddled the post-bop contemporary jazz scene with his own very original way. His work as a member of the Gateway Trio (with DeJohnette and Holland) was seminal, more fusion-rock oriented than what followed but filled with the fire of exploratory ways. Several solo albums came out after that, all good, but it was his formation of The First Quartet (ECM 3-CD set) with Richie Beirach on piano, George Mraz on bass and Peter Donald on drums beginning in 1978 that gave us the John Abercrombie of compositional brilliance and virtually uncategorizable improvisatory guitar playing. It was the point where it all gelled for him.

The three albums that came out in succession, Arcade (1979), Abercrombie Quartet (1980), and M (1981) have never before been released on CD until now and they are most welcome in the recently available ECM box set.

They mark an Abercrombie synthesizing the later jazz guitar contemporary lining and harmonic sophistications of a Jim Hall with Abercrombie's own sound and sensibilities, informed of course also by everything that came after Hall's peak period, including what John was up to before the quartet.

So very much these albums stake out a new stylistic claim, one very much in keeping with the sort of space-depth-jazz that ECM favored and created sound staging for so convincingly from the first, yet music very much Ambercrombian in its own right.

A key to this new sonance was the presence of pianist Beirach, who had already made quite an impact in David Liebman's group and had by then attained a harmonic-melodic beauty and modal-changes brilliance that suited where Abercrombie felt his music needed to be. George Mraz had the facility and imagination on bass that filled out the sound in all the right ways. And drummer Peter Donald swung the band in openly loose patterns that made the whole thing move forward nicely.

In the end this is a showcase for some very beautiful Abercrombie guitar and electric mandolin. He established a style with that spacy-pure tone and remarkable improvisational facility that had a rare combination of cool and heat. All three albums show him at his best, with Beirach a remarkable foil and harmonic lynchpin to the music.

There is a progression from album to album that came out of a natural development of playing together over time. The first album establishes the lyrical compositional backdrop and the improvising openness that would distinguish the group. The second increased the subtlety and impact of the pulsive momentum of the band. And the third built the lyricism outwards into more and more unified space-cosmos utterances.

It is most definitely great to hear these sides again after so long. They were Abercrombie's first truly definitive statements in the realm he has so fully occupied in the years that followed. They sound as fresh as ever.

Anyone who appreciates John Abercrombie should probably have these sides, surely, as anyone interested in knowing the important stylistic currents of jazz guitar as they developed outwards from this period. These are rather monumental statements on who Abercrombie was and still is. And that has much to do with where we are now, or a big part of it anyway. They are first-rate listens, too. Essential to hear and have if you can spring for it!