Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Michael Gregory Jackson, Spirit Signal Strata

If I say right out that Michael Gregory Jackson has over his career consistently distinguished himself as one of the very most distinctive and convincing guitarists in the modern jazz-fusion-post-new-thing zone, I say it to let you know where I stand. There are a number of factors that set him apart. One: Michael's music is at once the sound of joy and poetic exploration. There is exuberance, a special lyricism, a brilliantly melodic flow to his playing. Two: His music as he himself acknowledges, is a product of ALL the music he heard growing up--so jazz, rock, soul, and other things besides. Three: the factors above play into the music he makes for a performative beauty and luminance no other electric guitarist quite has out there today. Five: there is freedom to his music, at the same time as there is structure and pacing.

So all of that is readily heard on his latest and one of his very best albums, Spirit Signal Strata (Golden MGJSSS-01). For this outing Michael joins forces with a potent and open post-power trio. Kenwood Dennard is at the drums, a free-ranging and powerful exponent that brings the music ever forward. He is joined by the woody smarts contrabass of Keith Witty, who straddles the terrain between rhythm team functions and harmonic-melodic second lining quite effectively.

The program is a gradual outward traversal, beginning close to earth with some rootsy blues-rock-improv-jazz spans and then brings that further afield into spacier, more free spaces that include the roots but pull and stretch them to higher reaches of music.

The especially rewarding thing to center on is Michael's brilliant lining excursions, some of the very best from a guitarist that I have heard in years. He can keep a solid grounding in rootforms but still create a very idiomatically personal zone of drive and lyricism. On the free-er numbers he unleashes his more upward imaginative powers and creates a flow of musical lines that marks him the principal exponent in a school of one! The drenched drive of the guitar tone gives Michael's musical aura power and heft. The intelligence and soulfulness of his plectrum wielding and tone choice make it all work as a self-in-sound that gives Fusion a renewed vibrance and viability.

Is that clear? What I want you to do is get this album now, if you can. You who want to keep hip on the present-day scene need this album to throw you into the very much actuel. Michael remains and becomes ever more central! So listen.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


In the interest of full disclosure, Carla Diratz is a Social Media friend of mine. Maybe we both share a sort of poetic nature? All that translates into the fact that I was happily sent the new Diratz (New House Music 3) album to hear. I might not have in other circumstances. Whether I knew Carla or not I would have come on here with my thoughts either way. Because this album gets to me musically where I live. One of the places, anyway.

Carla gives us her underground, world-weary vocals, which are just right for the songs we hear. The band consists of Carla plus Dave Newhouse on keys and reeds, and Bret H. Hart on electric guitar and electronics, plus a fair number of guests as called for. Carla co-wrote all the songs with either Bret or Dave.

You might hear a little Lydia Lunch or later Marianne Faithful or even Nico here. But then the songs virtually are of the caliber of a Jack Bruce or Steely Dan, or maybe even that other Carla...Bley in her "escalator" period? Or Weill and Brecht? Something in the attitude of all of that, yet itself more than the others. The songs  have lots of substance, in other words. And it is pretty moody stuff, which suits the band well. Keep in mind these are not commercially repetitive, jingley things. They are more through composed. When I was a songster at Dick James Music, if I had played this for my boss he would have given me that look. Because it ain't pop.

The instrumental parts are well thought out, Bret's guitar a definite superior element in the mix, and Dave's keys and winds give further character to it all. The arrangements are excellent and avant rockish, I guess you could say.

It is the experience of the whole that makes this special. And it stays in a place throughout that is better heard than described. Art song, avant directness, poetic strength, especially intent on finding a natural, unforced originality.

It is music any serious listener with a good ear will be drawn toward.

I do suggest if you are a lover of the new and art-ish that you owe yourself a serious listen to this. I for one am very glad it is out and I can hear it a lot going forward. You may be like me. I think.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Party Pack, Ice

I've been far too silent on these pages. But that is going to end now. My life has been a tumbling barrel of chattering, hysterical monkeys but I am stopping the barrel in its tracks. That means I can resume posting more often. To inaugurate the new awakening, I cover today something you'd probably never hear about if I did not say something here and now.

It's a rather obscure EP CD by Party Pack. Ice (pF Mentum CD107) is the title. Now why should you care about something you've probably no idea about? It is in part the whole point of why I write about music. To pass on what turns me on in the hope that it will turn YOU on, that's always part of the aim.

Part Pack is a quintet of Adam Hopkins on bass (and the composer on this), Patrick Breiner and Eric Trudel on tenor saxes, Dustin Carlson on guitar, and Nathan Ellman Bell on drums. Maybe you do not know these names? The point of course is the music...if good, the names follow!

And this is good, very good indeed. It is psychedelic freedom jazz-rock, I guess you could say. It is loose but clear in direction. It has a rock aggression and an avant jazz heat.

And it just SOUNDS great. That is the point, right? It is one of those advanced underground things that motors the music forward. And because nobody else will buy it, it is your duty to support such things by doing so. I say that not to offend you. Artists like this NEED your support. And if you listen carefully, you will I think agree that it is music that deserves attention.

OK? Please.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dominic Miller, Silent Light

That I am covering an album slightly late is no reflection of what I think of it. It is more to do with a hectic period this year that has receded  and allowed me to get back to what matters. Dominic Miller is a creative, rather brilliant acoustic guitarist firmly on the dreamy side of the ECM sound. His latest album Silent Light (ECM 2518) allows him time to stretch out and weave atmospheric webs of luminous intimacy. He is joined on five of 11 numbers by the percussion and in one case drums of Miles Bould.

Dominic fills the air with lyrical, accomplished original playing that includes a wonderful ability to comp and pick away within a very sophisticated harmonic-melodic world that in the end is his alone. There are no easy words to describe what he comes up with on this fine album, except perhaps to say that the lyrical tradition of Ralph Towner and Oregon are in no way antithetical to this music, though there is no sign of imitation, just a parallel universe.

He brings to us a beauty that bears your close attention and makes a smile adorn your face almost involuntarily. I do not think I need to say any further for now. Just listen.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Machine Mass Plays Hendrix, with Michel Delville

Jimi Hendrix remains one of our greatest American rock musicians ever. His guitar work revolutionized how we would look at such things, and his concept and compositions remain ever fresh and vital. So when the fuse-prog trio Machine Mass elected to do a tribute album, Machine Mass Plays Hendrix (MoonJune 084), it was of course a worthy idea.

Michel Delville as one of the leading guitar practitioners in the adventuresome realms today is a natural hommage master. He turns in creative rock-solid performances and adds further electronics to the trio mix to fill things out. He is joined by Machine Mass regulars Tony Bianco on drums and Antoine Guenet on keyboards, synths and piano.

They take some of Hendrix's most compelling songs-compositions and make of them something both contemporary and spacy, without ever violating the spirit of the originals. So we get a notable mix of Jimi's classics, "Third Stone From the Sun," "Little Wing," "Voodoo Chile," "The Wind Cries Mary," etc.

It is an opportunity to get inside these tunes with an original take on them, and for Delville to let loose with freely spaced-out post-Hendrix guitar brilliance.

It may take a couple of listens to fully enter the Machine Mass zone. Once you do, it is a wondrous terrain of the very familiar combined with the unexpected.

Need I say more? Dig this one.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Markus Reuter, Featuring Sonar and Tobias Reber, Falling for Ascension

Some music you are at first thrown off a bit by, in that you weren't sure what to expect, but this was not quite it. Then later you settle in and find it is music of real excellence. It is part of the ever growing possibilities of a true artist, and as a true listener you need to be ready for anything. So this describes well my first, somewhat distracted listen and my later embrace of Markus Reuter's Falling for Ascension (Ronin RON018)..

That this is released on Nik Bartsch's Ronin label is not an accident. The themes for this album were written by Markus between 1985 and 1987. Yet they do not sound at all dated. They share with Bartsch's music a mesmeric minimal funk that sprawls wonderously outward with continually shifting, odd meters. It is a mid-sized ensemble of six players, Markus on touch guitars and soundscapes, plus two more guitars, bass guitars and live electronics.

Each segment carves out its meter-motif infinity with distinctly well hewn structure and flow. The final work "Unconditional" makes a definitive end of it with the most compelling and complex of all of them. I very much suppose your ears will hear the relation between the Crimsonian tide of those years as well as its place in the prog minimal funk that followed.

It is exceptional music for endlessly rewarding drift and ecstatic momentum. It is ensemble intricacy at its most musically stimulating, both rock and post-rock!

Grab it for sure!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Dialeto, Bartok in Rock

Dialeto is a very cool power trio in the fusion-prog mold. Their Bartok in Rock (Chromatic Music CMCD 001) is all those excellent things Bartokian adapted rather brilliantly for a fusion outing. Selections from "Mikrokosmos" and "Roumanian Folk Dances" form the bulk of the material. Everything sounds just right and there are some nice guitar solos to flesh things out a bit.

It is Nelson Coelho on electric guitar, Gabriel Costa on bass guitar and Fred Barley on drums. They are full of piss and vinegar as one might hope, so we get lots of great music with a ballsy edge. And that seems perfect as a coherent direction.

Why is Bartok so successfully adapted by jazz and now rock musicians? I cannot give you a particularly coherent answer except it always seems to fit right into an advanced contemporary concept, never more so that this Dialeto album.

It keeps sounding good every time I put it on. I kid you not, this one is muy hot!