Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Curved Air Rarities Series Volume 2, Curved Space and Infinity

From the vaults and long deleted catalog numbers comes The Curved Air Rarities Series Volume 2: Curved Space & Infinity (Curved Air Records 002). The Brit prog band is caught in a psychedelic space-metal jam mode on two sessions somewhat separated in time but unified in their free, open spacey context. Disk one contains "Curved Space," disk two "Infinity."

The first was edited down from five hours of jamming from 2001 (?) and features Francis Monkman and Mike Gore on guitars, Rob Martin on bass guitar and Florian Pilkington-Miksa on drums.

The second disk, hailing from somewhat later, involves Pilkington-Miksa, Robert Norton on keys and Kirby Gregory on guitar.

This is the sort of thing they did as early as 1968--and sounds virtually nothing like the typical studio sessions. It's all space, all jam, and nothing in the way of songs.

But for the jam-space crowd out there this is wholesome good fun, deliberately off-track and filled with a huge quantity of stars and dark matter!

It's a reminder of the jam roots of the later '60s and in fact still sounds fresh and interesting.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Club d'Elf, Live at Helsinki Club, 2-CD Set

Club d'Elf has nearly always impressed me as a psychedelic fusion jazz outfit with smarts as well as soul. Their new 2-CD set, Live at Club Helsinki (Face Pelt 5003) continues that creative strain and adds to it, thanks in part to the addition of key phenom John Medeski. There is more than ever a pronounced North African strain to be heard as well, with Brahim Fribgane effectively coming through on oud, voice and percussion.

The rest of the band--Duke Levin (guitar), Mister Rourke (DJ), Mike Rivard (bass, sintir, bass kalimba), Dean Johnston (drums) and Thomas Workman on flute for a couple of cuts--bring us a groovingly varied program of long form improvisation and attractive riffs.

Perhaps there are less bands actively engaging in post-Milesian psych-jazz-rock now than there was a few years back, or perhaps it is only that I am not sent as much of this sort of thing than I used to, but in either event I am glad to dig into this set and explore it in depth.

There is finely detailed group interactions, nice guitar, oud and key soloing, and substance to be heard every step of the way.

Anyone who takes to the electric jam thing will find this one a boon, for sure. Viva Club d'Elf!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Mark Dresser Seven, Sedimental You

Last February I was pleased to review the remarkable DVD Virtual Tour: Reduced Carbon Footprint on my Gapplegate Music Blog. (See  It was an ambitious gathering of three fine ensembles playing elaborate compositions and improvising around them in two or three locations at the same time via advanced internet hookups.

Bassist-composer Mark Dresser was a crucial participant. Now we have a sort of follow-up with Dresser leading a seven-tet, some of the members of which were a part of the Virtual Tour. Along with Dresser we have a significant gathering of Nicole Mitchell on soprano and alto flutes, Marty Ehrlich on clarinet and bass clarinet, David Morales Boroff on violin. Michael Dessen on trombone, Joshua White on piano and Jim Black on drums and percussion.

The album is Sedimental You (Clean Feed 385), a word play referencing the standard "Sentimental You" as well as underscoring the importance of instrumental layering in the delightfully complex modern avant jazz fare we hear on this landmark album.

Seven composition-arrangements by Dresser define the set. They are beautifully detailed, freely sprawling significances for the trajectory and memorability of the melodic-harmonic spectrum each distinctively maps out.

At the same time there is a freedom both in ensemble moments and in solo work by Mark and the others.

This is jazz composition of a very original and satisfying sort, modern original music by a remarkable ensemble of players who interpret their parts and improvise as called upon in stellar ways.

This may be the jazz composition album of the year for me, or at least one of the very few most original and ravishing to come out.

Anyone interested in what's NEW in jazz should not hesitate. Get this!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

John Lee Hooker, The Modern, Chess and Veejay Singles Collection 1949-62

Anybody with a serious interest in blues classics of the second half of the 20th century knows undoubtedly of the importance of John Lee Hooker. He had his very own way both vocally and in his guitar playing. We can get a real feel for the development of his music in its essence with the recently released  4-CD box set The Modern, Chess and VeeJay Singles Collection 1949-62 (Acrobat ACQCD7103). With both "A" and "B" sides included we get a rich presentation of 101 tracks showing John Lee Hooker at his very finest.

Throughout the period singles were the principal medium to get blues out to its public. By the close of this period LPs were starting to assert themselves, but the grassroots attention was still on the single even then, pretty much. So a collection of the singles output is much a collection of his most significant work.

The set follows chronologically in order of release. We get a gradual unfolding of his art, beginning much of the time with John's electric, his stomping feet and his vocals. Although increasingly the I-IV-V progression is implied, John never sounds the changes himself. Later on other guitars, bass, piano may sound the IV and V changes overtly, and in the end drums supplement his stomps, but John's droning guitar riffing remains a key element as it did for the rest of his career.

And all that is crucial because his guitar approach was as influential as anybody's in this period, even though from a technical perspective there were many others who were more developed, surely. What John plays, though, is always right, always right for what he wants to do. Needless to say his vocals were some of the most electrifying and soulful sounds you could hear then...and now.

There are favorites, must-haves like "Boom Boom," "Boogie Chillen," "Crawlin' King Snake" and there are those more obscure, but it's ALL good. He was like the cat who always landed on his feet, no matter what the fall. Peerless.

This is essential. Absolutely.