Thursday, December 10, 2020

Damon Smith, Whatever is Not Stone is Light, Solo Double Bass


The solo double bass album, like the solo drum album is perhaps somewhat esoteric compared with a more standard ensemble offering. There are not all that many either. A Dave Holland solo many years ago was something to appreciate, truly. And then a Michael Bisio one, I believe reviewed here, was a standout. One is better not trying to compare one with another if each says something well--for it is in the saying that we get the substance, not necessarily in fanning out every one ever made like a hand of cards.

So there is a new one, this time by Damon Smith. It has a title that is in itself something to think about, namely Whatever is Not Stone is Light (Balance Point Acoustics BPA-10). There are some 23 solo segments, which are titled based on Lysander Kemp translations of poems by Octavio Paz.

Damon Smith has deservedly garnered a reputation over the years as one of the foremost bass players in the "Free" or "Avant Jazz" camp. His own albums are well worth hearing and I have reviewed some of them on this page and also my Gapplegate Music Review page. He has been a focal point for the New Jazz and now this new solo album extends his voice and makes us happily appreciate his view of the instrument as a solo voice.

There are of course pizzicato passages, all of poetic interest, as are the bowed segments and the extended technique masteries--that all combine together for a very lively and satisfying aesthetic statement. It is music occupying the upper echelons, the highest psychic registers of upper-dom.

It is an album of uncompromising solo bass statements, a poetics of  contrabass utterance, a landmark of directed improvisation, of bass imagination. It is an album your should hear and have. Definitely recommended.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Eric Brochard, Fabrice Favriou, Derviche


What comes next? Musically? The answer is everything that went before and some that didn't? In the world we live in right now, all awaits if we can but stay safe? Well at any rate the possibilities musically are as wide open as they have been, if you have persistence, courage, and you are willing to explore.

All that must serve as a prelude to a new disk this morning which is a sort of reaffirmation of the possibilities--of the sparse electricity of Psychedelic Trance Drone Avant Rock if you will. I speak of an album by Eric Brochard and Fabrice Favriou, on piccolo-bass and drums, respectively. It is entitled Derviche (Ayler Records AYLCD-165), which is appropriate because it does spin, whirl, go around. It is taking the bass and making it a bit more metal-guitar-like and then spawning a trance drone expansion of beat and sustained chord.

The five "Sequences" that make up the album move around as a wash of beat and drone, a bass chord sequence with plenty of bottom but some treble too, an unrelenting rock drum tattoo that has life and variation to it while never flagging. 

"Sequence III" gives out with another droning motif and the electronic enhancement of the bass makes it sound as if there are organ tones in there as well.

The promo sheet that came with my copy of this CD describes the music aptly as "experimental rock, focusing on bareness as a research tool." The motive and repetitions aim to achieve an "ecstatic point," which is the case if you let it all sway you to an aural space it occupies resolutely and poetically. 

The distorted metallics of droning and re-droning reinforces one's immersion in the aural space of the recording. It is the very opposite I suppose of the frenetic sheets-of-sound chordal barrages of late-50s Coltrane, and we can accept that as another way to occupy musical space without taking sides, surely not something worth choosing one over another to my mind, because indeed we need both.  It has its space and it does the drone barrage admirably well.

I recommend this one for its sheer sensual inter-planetificatory vibes. If you meet it half-way it will take you out to the edges of outer space, so to speak. Listen!

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Allen Shawn, Michael Bisio, Improvisations


Anyone who has read this blog, the Gapplegate Music Review and my Cadence reviews from some years ago no doubt knows that I very much appreciate Michael Bisio's acoustic bass playing a great deal and consider him as among a handful of the very most accomplished and innovative Jazz-Improv bassists out there today. So I was very happy to be sent his latest CD outing with pianist-composer Allen Shawn. 

Michael has been playing for the past several years in pianist Matthew Shipp's Trio, a state-of-the-art outfit if there ever was one. The current outing changes things up as a duo and with a different chemistry born of a different set of intersecting backgrounds. It all makes for an equally absorbing but essentially varying stylistic amalgam.

The album is aptly and matter-of-factly called Improvisations (self released). It is a wide-ranging series of seemingly mostly spontaneous improvisations of Michael and Allen Shawn, both of whom teach at Bennington, Michael bass and Allen composition. The fact that Allen composes orchestral-chamber-piano New Music is somewhat telling in how at times he structures his improvisations. Yet there is a deep internal referencing of the Jazz tradition to be heard, too, quite happily. The Shawn-Bisio intersection on the faculty at Bennington is musically quite fortunate as  you no doubt will realize when you listen to this first collaboration.

Some improvisations give us a song-like or a generally pre-structured way of going at it. Others have more pronounced improvisational freedom. The first improv makes me think of Mingus in the best ways. The final piece is mesmeric-cyclic and then a very attractive anthemic theme that reminds one of a Charlie Haden-Carla Bley evergreen in its own way.

Bisio sounds especially inspired by Shawn's open-ended presence, both harmonically-intervalically and melodically. And Shawn in turn seems to delight in the response he gets as it spurs him onward to dig ever more deeply for further musical insights.

It is a magical mix of bold ideas and intensive duo considerations. Anyone with an interest in "serious" music, duo interactions, improvised music, bass and piano performance excellence as it continues to thrive undaunted by the upheavals of recent events, this one is most definitely for you. Highly recommended. A marvel!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Adam Caine Quartet, Transmissions


The electric guitar work of Adam Caine is something special. His importance continues. There is a new album out with a two-guitar quartet called Transmissions (No Business NBCD 126) and it is a winner. It is a set of compositional frameworks and solos, as opposed to the pure improvisation albums he has put out previously. What further distinguishes this music is the way they work out the Quartet format of two guitars--Adam and Bob Lanzetti plus Billy Mintz on drums, Adam Lane on acoustic bass--and Nick Lyons added on alto sax for one cut.

All of the numbers are Adam Caine compositions that stand on their own as inspired content at the same time as they provide good blowing vehicles. I run down pertinent aspects of all the pieces below.

"Night Driver" has a lyric two-guitar head melody that sounds vaguely Jerry Garcia-ish-meets-ECM but then in a B section a lovely contrasting chordal motif. Straight after it's off to the short solos including Adam Lane sounding very fresh.

"Cloud Over" has Elvin Jones-ish swing and a two-guitar head melody that meshes wonderfully well in bluesy lyricism. The guitar solos built over a loosely together propulsion sound a little post-Jerry again while they rock jazzishly. With second guitar comping very nicely the Caine guitar solos  to me in a very hip way. It all moves beyond in another sort of post-Dead fullness.

"Alien Flower" has a bit of noir atmospherics, an aesthetic pondering that feels a little black and white to me, in a good way of course.

"The Girl" has some especially nice lyrical guitar work, changes-based and elegant. It's a kind of poetics that has florid jazz-rock underpinnings, aspects that mesh together well.

"Secular Expectations" is another ravishing melodic headline with solo guitar work that surprises and brings big smiles--at least for me. Nick Lyons' guest alto fits right in and expands the solo spread meaningfully.

"The Core" has very electric jazz-rockish solos by the guitars--flat-out burning metal, with the rhythm section giving it lots of torque.  

"Hell Awaits" very free electric with hot Lane bowed bass and Caine on electronics, then blazingly out metal guitar(s). The drums tumble freely. It segues into long sustain psych-guitar moments with bashing drums.

"Heavenly Bodies" has a very memorable two-guitar,  lyrical not-quite-riffing head, then space for an excellent solo moment for Lane on bass. After that we hear some nicely contrapuntal guitar with solo significance, A delicately spinning wonder this one is.

"The Spiral" has a rock-funk underpinning with some nice guitar riffing underneath Adam's very fuzzy and melodic solo, a gem.

This is as fine an electric outing as I've heard this year. It has a thoughtful air about it, and at the same time wails out with feeling when it needs to. A guitar joy, this is! I heartily recommend it.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Soft Machine, Live at the Baked Potato, 2019

There seems little doubt about it, the legendary Soft Machine keeps going to attain a new peak with a reversion to their original name, a great line-up, a new studio album Hidden Details a while back and now this adventurous and cutting-edge live album on the heels of an extensive world tour. Live at the Baked Potato (MoonJune Records MJR 102) documents the band as it held forth at the Los Angeles institution on February 1st, 2019. 

Power and flexibility mark the latest lineup, with John Etheridge on electric guitar, Theo Travis on sax, flute and Fender Rhodes piano, Roy Babbington on bass guitar and John Marshall on drums. What they do on this set is essentially revive again the adventurous spirit of the band as in its Prog-Jazz titan style of loose and tight in tandem.

The music addressed combines some old classics with a few pieces from the last album. A key to the straddling of old and new is the rare lucidity of Theo Travis on both keys and winds. In this way he can evoke Mike Ratledge's role along with the great sax roles too, from Elton Dean onwards.

So and very appropriately so the album starts off with a cosmic key adventure that recalls and rethinks the original Ratledge part to the opening of "Out-Bloody-Rageous" from the classic Soft Machine Third. It is a glorious thing to hear this new version which has just enough of the original feel but then keeps us thinking that this is NOW, after all.

So we get new and vivid versions of classics like "Kings & Queens," "The Man Who Waved at Trains" and "Hazard Profile."

Everyone sounds motivated,  filled with ideas and energy. The rhythm mates of Roy Babbington on bass guitar and John Marshall on drums are continually in the pocket with torque and drive. Travis is a vivid solo voice on sax and flute but as mentioned gives the band another avenue going forward on the Rhodes. Guitarist John Etheridge sounds as fluid and inspired as ever.

The whole of this album is a very happy thing. Any lover of Soft Machine will doubtless love this one. And anyone who by some chance are not familiar with the band and crave Prog adventure and improvisational flights will no doubt respond readily as well.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Sonar with David Torn, Tranceportation (Volume 2)

Still living on today is the open-formed cosmic Psych Riff Rock Funk Jazz that we heard iconically in the late '60s-early '70s Miles Davis, with Terje Rypdal in his classic period and with countless related others. It keeps on today with artists like Nik Bartsch and in the band Sonar, specifically for today's discussion on the latter's album Tranceportation (Volume 2) [RareNoise Records RNR0114(CD) RNR114LP(Vinyl)], a collaboration with the great David Torn.

There are layerings of bass and guitar parts in a mesmeric counterpoint that the drums lock into and push forward. And then there is floating atop guitar solos of a Psych-Fuse-Jazz-Electricity sort, well crafted, exciting and no doubt much of it by David Torn. Sonar otherwise consists of Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner on "tritone" guitars, Christian Kuntner on "tritone" bass and Manuel Pasquinelli on drums. Each member is part of an indispensable whole that works together very well.

After listening to this album quite a few times I must say that the content hangs together beautifully, the more so the more I hear it. The complexity of the riffing counterpoint and the immediacy of the solo guitar work join together for very first-rate and original presence and a floating yet very centered weight.

This is music any lover of advanced Fuse-Rock electric guitar and bass should welcome. It is not out to wow you with chops but instead singularly comes through with imaginative and lively interplay. Very recommended.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

M'lumbo and Page Hamilton, Fairytale Aliens

A new M'lumbo album to me is an event, since their wall-of-sound Futurist Psychedelia is not quite like anything else out there, truly. Now we have a latest one, teaming up with Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton. Fairytale Aliens (Ropeadope) brings together Page on guitar with core M'lumbo men Robert Jordan Ray Flatow on keyboards, "suitcase symphonetta," "ectoplasmic radio," bass, electronic and acoustic percussion, voice, harmonica, and production-producer; then there is Paul-Alexandre Meurens on tenor sax, electronic and acoustic percussion, "cytoplasmic cheese synthesizer," assistant producer, flute, bass clarinet, bass, voice and shoes. They are joined at times by other friends but in the main it is the threesome who are responsible for the sprawling organic-electronic sympho-voltage.

I was surprised as I listened, absorbed, to recognize all-at-once that the M'lumbo sound is the Futurist progeny of John Cage's Variations IV, the late-'50s collage of Cage and Tudor mixing together long playing albums as an eclectic melange of musical styles, sound effects and adding live gallery sounds of visitors talking, etc. It was an innovative go of things and the M'lumbo density we hear in a most exemplary way on Fairytale Aliens is a highly original extension of the all-over sound. Not that M'lumbo deliberately sets out to "do Cage," just that the history of the future includes such things as subsets of themselves, in interesting ways.

The content though is entirely another matter. It is M'lumbo, Page and friends playing their special arrangements of some classic rock--"You Really Got Me," "Strawberry Fields" and "Sleep Walk" along with original music and special sound tapestries, etc. The mix peppers the band's large sound with samples that contextualize and thicken things, not only of the band itself playing against itself, but recorded excerpts of speeches, cartoon voices, etc that serve to encapsulate it all in a Futuristic time warp.

So the original "King of the Moon" juxtaposes segmented samples of JFK space-age speeches, cartoon snippets, into the thick musical collage for a kind of total immersion in sound.

Happily it all works resoundingly well, with Hamilton's guitar a key element on "Sleepwalk," "Strawberry" and "You Really Got Me" as typically excellent examples.  The totality of it all gives us a kind of psychedelic epic, a vintage dream of the future looked back upon and made most poetic.

And so it is certainly one of M'lumbo's best outings, moving and making total sonic sense for a kind of post-Sgt Pepper, post-Cagean, post-'60s Avant Rock studio presence into a future and so realizing the promise of the past. One must meet the music half-way because it is a complex sonic thing. If you do I think you will find it as enthralling as I do. Do not let this one slip by. Do not miss it.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Wolfgang Muthspiel, Angular Blues, with Scott Colley, Brian Blade

I have had the pleasure of covering Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel on these pages (see June 30, 2014, December 13, 2013 articles). There is a new one and it builds on his legacy in the best ways. It's a trio date entitled Angular Blues (ECM 1655).

There is a beautiful three-way dialogue throughout that highlights a very simpatico rapport between Muthspiel, on acoustic for the first three tracks and electric for the rest, the always swinging and subtle Brian Blade on drums, and bassist Scott Colley turning in some of his best playing on disk.

For this, Muthspiel's fourth album as leader on ECM, there is a very appealing mix of well constructed originals and a couple of rather reassuringly fresh takes on old songbook items ("Everything I Love" and "I'll Remember April"), the latter of which are apparently the first standards Wolfgang has committed to wax as leader and fine blowing vehicles they are in the trio's hands.

With this freewheeling date that minds changes or motors through quasi-modal sequences with equal grace, Muthspiel gives notice that his consummate artistry excels with a ripening maturity rewarding to hear.

The three acoustic segments kick off the music with promise. "Wandering" gives Colley the lead melody and both he and Muthspiel get some open improv time that they do not let go by without good commentary and creative frisson. The title cut "Angular Blues" has full blooming abstraction in the head, some ravingly creative three-way interactions and a nice solo space for Blade. And so it goes, with promising openings followed up by well turned successions, all quite strong. Not the least is the final acoustic cut, the very lyrical anthem "Huttengriffe."

We must not neglect to mention the fully burning bop excellence of "Ride." It emits white hot flames and reassures us that the roots of the Jazz heritage continue to refresh and sustain with the patent originality and prowess of these three artists. Bravo!

The most electric and in its own way the most nicely freewheeling is "Kanon in 6/8" which allows Muthspiel to build elaborate multiple contrapuntal lines that Colley responds to beautifully well. The immediately following "Solo Kanon in 5/4" creates even more florid multi-Muthspiel voices that refresh with their extraordinary inventiveness. Both tracks are unforced and natural, super-musical and not the least gimmicky.

The concluding funk-laced "I'll Remember April" reminds us what Jarrett's Standards Trio might do with such things, only with Colley breaking into his own take solo-wise we end up heading toward a different destination. Wolfgang responds with a firmly swung solo of his own, a post-Abercrombie, post-Hall beauty of execution that sums it all up and then goes back to the funky pedal-pointed mantra that quite naturally gives Brian Blade space to comment on Wolfgag's lengthy exposition. It is a fitting end to a very worthwhile set.

After having lived with this music for a few weeks the album stands out to me as a testament to Muthspiel's full-blown artistry, his position among the foremost Jazz guitarists of the present-day. He has arrived, of that there is no doubt. Outstanding album this is. Do not miss it.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Giorgi Mikadze, Georgian Microjamz

One more review day, and another way to play? Yes, today an unexpected surprise--that is an album by Giorgi Mikadze entitled Georgian Microjamz (RareNoise Records RN0116[CD] RNR116LP). It is a most unusual combination of Georgian (Eastern Europe) Folk elements and well articulated Fusion-Progressive-Jazz-Rock utilizing microtunings.

What is further remarkable about it is that it really all works together to create a distinct whole.The band comprises Giorgi Mikadze on microtuned keyboards, compositions and arrangements, David Fiuczynski on fretless electric guitar, Panagiotis Andreou on fretless electric bass, Sean Wright on drums, and traditional oriented Georgian vocals by a male group Ensemble Basiani (on three tracks) and singer Nana Valishvili (on one track).

The Georgian vocal element draws upon the ages-old polyphonic primality that has great beauty and distinctiveness. That Mikadze manages to make excellent use of the style and fits it into the microtonal electric fusion complex he so nicely fashions with his band is rather amazing. And despite or in addition to the elaborate compositional element and the finely improvised Rock-ish Fuzoid the band adopts a set of microtonal tunings that hang together organically. They make sense once one gets used to them.

The band is excellent with Berklee College of Music's David Fiuczynski taking full advantage of the microtonal possibilities of his fretless guitar for a fused exuberance that Giorgi seconds fluidly well on his keys. Panagiotis does a fine job with rock-solid anchorage that his fretless bass retunes in synch microtonally with the others. Drummer Wright has a busy and driving heat that pushes the music forward with musical intelligence and fire.

The compositions make lively and memorable musical discourse out of the microtones and set up the improvisations with a weighty context.

Georgian Microjamz has it all--innovative ways, true artistry, compositional clout and a convincing amalgamation of styles into an exceptional whole. Do not miss this one if you are open to the new. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Bobby Previte, Jamie Saft, Nels Cline, Music from the Early 21st Century

What pristine electric sounds were unfolding and evolving on the advanced Psychedelic Rock scene in the later '60s are still a touchstone, a foundation for the more futuristic "Progressive" electric music happening even today, most specifically in the Jazz-Rock nexus that keeps striving forward undaunted despite a world that sometimes seems to have gone otherwise astray.

If you need proof of that or even if not, even if you do not care what the flavor of the month might be, there is a recent release of value and significance. It is called (prophetically or otherwise) Music from the Early 21st Century (RareNoise Records  RNR0115[CD]. RNR115LP[Vinyl]).

The trio makes plenty of sense in terms of the backgrounds and interests of each player. The album consists of ten live improvisational Neo-Psychedelic excursions as recorded in four clubs in New York and Pennsylvania last spring. The instrumentation is Jamie Saft on Hammond Organ, Fender Rhodes and Mini-Moog, Nels Cline on electric guitar and effects, and Bobby Previte on drums.

The first thing I noticed in the first listen was how much Jamie Saft's Hammond sound and note choice had deep roots in the classic organ vibe of bands like Deep Purple, early Soft Machine and the Nice. The rootedness is heard more in essence than in imitation, for this entire album takes those roots and does something original, freewheeling, and advanced in terms of a collective improvisationality,

There are a wealth of inspired three-way inventions that imply a high level of technique (especially from Nels Cline) without being a chops showcase per se. And that is a sign of a mutual maturity of course, of musical, group inventional values being foremost as they should be. At the same time there is a high level of electricity--sustain, feedback, signal synthesis, tunnels and walls of sound. And of course that is only right, since this is a stylistic complex that traditionally thrives on signal transformations--and the trio extends that aesthetic in ways both tasteful and gutsy.

The levels attained by this trio are consistently very high. It is not easy to take up this style nowadays and carve original and valid niches into some futuristic opening but that is just what Previte, Saft and Cline do. There are a few select riffs and they move the music ahead but the exceptional level of freely collective invention is what sets this one apart as unusually inspired.

Anyone who looks for new ways to be both electric and free, you will no doubt be glad to savor this one. An essential. Perhaps indeed a future classic.