Friday, December 31, 2010

Flamenco-Fused Rumba From Sabor de Gracia

Spain's Sabor de Gracia has a bunch of albums out, but their newest Sabor pa Rato (World Village 498037) is my first exposure to them. La Rumba Catalana is what they do, and they really do it well! It combines the rhythms and general horn-percussion-vocal style of rumba from the Latin tradition and adds local elements--from Gypsy-flamenco strains. The music that results is a captivating blend. There are minor-key melodies to be savored (flamenco-like to greater or lesser degree at any point), a preponderance of flamenco acoustic guitars adding their dynamic strums much of the time, and a melodic-rhythmic distinctiveness that comes out in some pretty highly developed songs. There's a little funk in there too and some samba touches as well.

The band has an infectiously joyous drive. The flamenco guitars, an occasional electric solo that comes out of something Carlos Santana would admire, horn and string lines that give you much to appreciate, very considerable vocal charm from the solo singers and chorus (with rather thrilling moments of flamenco cantilation), a good percussion section. . . this is music that satisfies on many levels.

And the band is tight! I feel the joy. Definitely recommended!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lively Tuvan Music from Huun Huur Tu, "Ancestors Call"

The Republic of Tuva occupies the borderlands of southern Siberia. It was once under the control of Mongolia, then China, and has been affiliated with Russia since the beginning of last century. Tuvans have gained international recognition from world music enthusiasts for their beautifully striking throat-singing. By manipulating their throat and mouth cavity they are able to produce multiple tones and overtones of a singular nature.

As the vocal group Huun Huur Tu shows in their album Ancestors Call (World Village 468107), they have a rich song tradition that is much more than a means to show off vocal techniques. There are some similarities to the music of of Tibet and Mongolia (and/or vice-versa) in their music, but much else that sounds like neither. It is Tuvan, after all. It comes principally out of Siberian Shamanistic practices that go back many centuries

Huun Huur Tu is a vocal-instrumental quartet who straddle the line between tradition and modernity.They play traditional Tuvan musical instruments but also make use of acoustic guitars. To a listener such as myself, they sound very Tuvan. No disco numbers here!

The recording is a treasure of ballads, droned or long-toned recitation and lively uptempo numbers. The overtone singing ranges from a whistling high-chordal approach to rich, low-overtoned timbres. Conventional vocal delivery comes into play much of the time as well. The emphasis is on the song at hand. Either way this is marvelous music, marvelously performed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Intriguing Guitar Music of Henze (Volume Two)

Now I haven't heard the first volume of Naxos' collection of the guitar music of Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926), but if it's anything like volume two (Guitar Music 2) (Naxos 8.557345), it is something very good indeed. Volume two centers around the beautifully executed and thoroughly conceived performances of guitarist Franz Halasz. Henze's music is quite difficult to play and Maestro Halasz not only makes it seem easy, he brings out the logic of the music in ways that give comprehension, cohesion, and a great deal of pleasure to my ears.

There are four works represented here, covering the composer's output between 1974 and 1986. The very beautiful "Guitar Sonata No. 1 on Shakespearean Characters" opens the program, and it is delightful. "Carillon, Recitatif, Masque" follows, scored for guitar, mandolin and harp. It too is extraordinarily attractive. Henze's detailed concern for the sonoric possibilities at hand combines with his very fluid inventive genius, here and elsewhere. It's music that is as modern as modern can be, yet has a sensuous quality that engages the listener on a visceral level.

The 1986 "Ode to an Aeolian Harp" joins Halasz with a chamber ensemble. It further underscores Henze's transparent, brightly colored musical palette. The wind-like play of phrasing and the somewhat brittle solo guitar response make for pure magic.

Great music, fabulous performances! Now I must hear Volume One. Henze should not be overlooked. He is a master and these are some compositional jewels.

Michael Bisio, Solo Bassist

Dave Holland (album on ECM), Bertram Turetsky (especially The Contemporary Contrabass, released as an LP long ago on Nonesuch), William Parker, and Peter Kowald come to mind as having recorded exceptional contrabass solo work. I'm probably leaving someone out, but theirs are the performances that have become vividly etched in my musical memory banks. Now I can add to that list Michael Bisio, who has just recorded and released a full CD of solo bass, Travel Music (self-released, no catalog #).

It is intended not as an exercise in wizardry (which it also happens to be), but rather as MUSIC for the contrabass. And it succeeds remarkably well. Any acoustic bassist with a full set of techniques should be able to achieve liftoff both with the bow and pizzicato. Liftoff is just the start of the trip, though. It's where you go that matters in the long run. Michael shows himself a well-seasoned traveler with the sense of exploration and ability to go anywhere his muse takes him, anytime. He remains his very expressive self and goes to wonderful musical destinations whether using the bow or the fingers. "Nitro, Don't Leave Home Without It," for example finds Mr. Bisio engaging in the kind of extended creation of expressive energy, arco-style, that could only come from his bow.

Michael pays keen attention to the sound-color capabilities of the instrument, which of course are considerable. He has over the years mastered the near-infinite range of textures and colors available to him, and Travel Music in this and many other ways constitutes a tour de force of bass power and bass finesse.

There are eight improvisations on the disk. One is a loving tribute to Charlie Haden, by way of a poignant meditation on Haden's "Human Being." The program concludes by paying homage to the great master Coltrane with a moving rendition of "Alabama." In between there are eminently musical improvisations that show a structural logic. Phrasing is sure. Expression ranges from a searching and yearning quality to an untrammeled explosion of movement and turbulence.

Ultimately this is to be heard as MUSIC, and that's where Bisio and the recital move a giant stride beyond the too common bass-solo-as-interlude between horn & piano solos, bass solo as a break in the action. With Travel Music the bass IS the action, front and center. One does not expect the music to resume after the solo ends. The music is right there, from beginning to end. That's been the way with Mr. Bisio for a long time. He never fills space! This album gives him the chance to show in an extended way how far he has gone into territories both charted and unknown.

Travel Music is an exciting journey through a contrasting set of moods and modes. It's a terrific example of the solo bass as a vehicle for some real improvising, spontaneous composing and masterful weaving of line and tone. It should disabuse anyone who doubts that Michael Bisio is one of a small handful of true proponents of the musical contrabass in improvisation today. This album spells it out for you, in ways that are exhilarating, breathtaking, moving, and meditative in turn. Do not miss it. For further info and sound samples, copy and paste the following URL into your browser:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rhode Island's Green Tea Jamband Captured Live

Some time ago I promised I would survey the Jambands out there, at least in the US. After a long pause, I look at another this morning. Green Tea is an outfit that hails from Rhode Island and apparently has garnered a loyal following there. I've been listening to a show from a band-approved download in the Live Holdings of It's the band holding forth at the Woodriver Inn in Hope Valley, RI on February 2, 2008.

The music fills two full CDs. It gives you a pretty good idea of what they are about. They do a mix of covers and what seem like originals. Their vocals are rough-and-ready Dead style, meaning that they are spirited. Not always perfect, but spirited.

It's with the instrumental presentation that they thrive. The rhythm section has an appealing looseness. The lead guitarist has a Garcia influence, as is the case with many bands of this sort, but he can stray from it as well. The second guitarist plays a pivotal rhythm guitar role most of the time and it seems to me that jambands in the Dead tradition rely on such a role heavily much as a straight-ahead bop-jazz outfit will rely on the pianist feeding chord comps of the changes to the soloist.

Judging from the evidence of this recording, this is a band that can rock you and jam you of an evening. Enough said. Catch them if they are appearing around your area and it sounds like you'll have a great time. Stay tuned for more bands in future postings.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rash Behari Datta Performs Raga Malkouns with 20 Sitars

It's Boxing Day (observed?) in many countries and a happy one for those that have it. Many people have the day off regardless. Much good has it done us, and much good it will do us, as a reformed Scrooge said. Snow is piled up high here in the New York Metro area. But the music must go on!

Today something very special. Indian Hindustani classical musician and composer Rash Behari Datta has a CD out of Raga Malkouns performed on 20 Sitars (ARC Music 2312). Something of this scope, as far as I know, has never been attempted, and the results are rather excellent. As in a conventional Jugalbandi duet, there are composed passages. Then there are sections where a principal sitar will elaborate on the rag and the other sitars will comment, embellish and accompany. Sometimes there are simultaneous improvisations as well.
It's all quite exhilarating to hear.

Maestro Datta accomplishes all this by means of overdubbing numerous parts. Sarvar Sabri accompanies on tabla. The effect is sometimes one of harmonization, sometimes multi-melodic-scalular, sometimes there is a compositional punch gained. In all cases the music emerges from the raga tradition and does not transgress the bounds of good taste. Most importantly it has a ravishing sonority and beauty.

As an added bonus the CD concludes with a short but pithy exposition of Raag Shobhavari by sitarist Baluji Shrivastav. He plays only one sitar on this improvisation (!), but it is a nice performance and makes one want to hear more of him as well.

A one-of-a-kind event, this disk is. I would love to hear a raga performed with many stringed instruments and also many tablas, perhaps tuned to different pitches as Zakir Hussein managed so successfully in the Diga Rhythm Band. That's another time. perhaps. What matters is that 20 Sitars affords a rather marvelous sonic experience. Anyone who likes Hindustani classical music will no doubt find it rewarding.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Fernandez and Wright Showcase Their Songs, Singing, Instrumentality

Australia doesn't get a great deal of attention up here in the States. At least not unless you search around for what music is happening there. The Necks have been on my "A" list for a while now, for example, but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a list of contemporary Australian artists of any length. It's not that things aren't happening there though.

Fernandez & Wright are definitely one thing that's happening. They are Vanessa Fernandez, songwriter and singer; and Steve Wright, guitarist and songwriter. Their album Unsung (New Market 3265.2) gives us a good listen to what they are about. It's ten original songs, done by the songwriting team, sung beautifully by Ms. Fernandez, with some very nicely subtle guitar work by Mr. Wright. The songs are personal, about love mostly, and they range from a bossa-Jobim feel to gently but thoroughly funky. It's all too contemporary to be cabaret, it's closer to jazzed singer-songwriter fare. Norah Jones comes to mind, but only in contrast. Vanessa's voice is more earthy and soulful, and really quite good. The music is actually closer to the jazz edge of the song spectrum than Norah's.

Some very nice songs, good instrumental arrangements and a deeply soulful vocal talent. That's a good thing to combine and this album does it in a way that brings much musical pleasure.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bassist Hugo Antunes Heads A Quintet On "Roll Call"

The more I hear of the Portuguese jazz scene the more impressive it seems to me. That's mostly thanks to the big ears of the folks at Clean Feed and their ambitious release schedule. Take today's CD, for example, Hugo Antunes' Roll Call (Clean Feed 197). I'm not precisely sure who in this sextet is and who isn't on the Portuguese scene (the CD was recorded in Brussels) but it illustrates my point nonetheless. Hugo plays a solid avant bass and writes some adventurous material. Joining him are two winds and two drummers: Daniele Martini on tenor and Toine Thys on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet; the two drummers are Joao Lobo and Marek Patrman.

This is music that breathes fire yet also gives contrasting space and runs through contrasting arranged, written and improvised routines that mix it up enough that one's attention remains focused throughout. It's a kind of in-and-out sensibility that much on Clean Feed puts forward these days. Yet Hugo Antunes' group does not in any way sound generic or derivative. I am occasionally reminded of the group sound of Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition band from the seventies, when Chico Freeman switched to the bass clarinet to contrast with the tenor of David Murray while the piano-less ensemble took the tempo loosely and convincingly. Now that's just a matter of the sound, and Antunes' group is not otherwise playing the mimic to that remarkable ensemble. And here we have two drummers, not one, working especially well together, one drummer's sound and execution contrasting with the other's at all points. And sometimes they kick up a hell of a row, inciting the horn men to both dizzying heights and tightly focused interaction. Both Thys and Martini are very good players. They sound good singly and, especially, working in tandem on double improvisations and arranged routines.

Roll Call constitutes another surprise, a sleeper, a jazz wolf in sheep's clothing. You look at the cover, you say to yourself, "OK..." Then you play the CD a few times and you say, "OK!!"

It's a goody. Give us some more of this, Hugo!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ranjit Barot Proffers A Remarkable Indian Fusion Blend on "Bada Boom"

Music keeps going on in this world no matter what else is happening. It is a source of endless satisfaction to have the privilege to be exposed to new and exciting musical work.

That's how I feel when listening to drummer Ranjit Barot's Bada Boom (Abstract Logix 026). Ranjit has assembled a wonderful cast of musicians to play a kind of Indo-American fusion that to my ears has not been heard in quite this way before. When something is new and different, description becomes more of a challenge, but I welcome the opportunity to sing the praises of this one.

Where to start? Ranjit Barot's drumming? It is really impressive. He gets the rhythmic sophistication of classical Indian ways of playing with the drive and command of the fusion drum approach. It is a marvel. His compositions are no less impressive because they combine aspects of Indian vocalizing and rhythmic patterns with a melodic-harmonic orientation that seems to me is quite original. His lead vocals are really quite good as well. I found that the music made me catch my breath and I'm still finding that to be the case.

Then the cast of musical luminaries. Not only is it impressive, the performances too are something to hear with awe. Zakir Hussain on tabla for example, is an ideal participant--because of his innovative and masterful command of the musical language, but also because he has been one of the key pioneers in Indo-fusion as it has evolved since that later sixties. John McLaughlin....of course the same applies and he sounds great. U. Srinivas on mandolin? One of those players that you hear once and that's IT! There are many others, some from the "Western" camp, some out of the Indian tradition, but they all contribute excellently crafted pieces to this elegant solution to the jigsaw puzzle of cosmic musical life.

I don't think I can say enough about this one. It is something not to be missed. Maestro Barot has crafted an ornate and lustrous musical jewel. I hope he does many more and that I will be hear to appreciate them!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Decline of British Sea Power, Zeus EP

The Decline of British Sea Power is one of the most interesting of today's indie rock bands. And they have become quite prolific, with the Zeus EP (Rough Trade) out in the latter half of this year and another full CD coming early in 2011.

I've been listening to the EP and it's something that grabs your ear. The songs are quirky and memorable, the vocals strong, the arrangements enveloping and singular. And the music has an edge to it, which I appreciate. In other words they continue to move in areas that made them stand out in the first place.

It's what's going on today. That is, it's what's GOOD today. One of those groups that one follows with interest. At least I do. Zeus. Come down from his cloudy Mt. Olympus.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Floyd McDaniel Plays The Classic Blues on "West Side Baby"

The blues. I have them. The times are right for them. They've been with me since I was a kid and I always return to them to refresh my soul. Floyd McDaniel may not be a name everybody knows but he embodies the blues. He died at age 80 in 1995 after a long career as another of the many notable Chicago bluesmen. If you've lived on the South Side of Chicago you know that the blues never needed reviving there. It's been a constant in the fabric of life since the urban blues revolution hit, when guitarists plugged in and let it ride, baby.

Floyd was recorded in concert in Germany in his last days. West Side Baby (Delmark DE-706) is the new re-release of that gig, and it shows you that age is no factor when the blues are real. There he was, 79 years old, singing and wailing on lead guitar, backed by a very hip band, affirming to everyone that blues with a feeling has no mandatory retirement age. The album was out-of-print for a while but it's here again and it's worth checking out.

Mr. McDaniel gives us some of his own special versions of some of the all-time classics--Handy's "St. Louis Blues," T-Bone's "Mean Old World," "Route 66," "Evening," which Jimmy Rushing made his own, "Sweet Home Chicago" and Floyd's own signature "West Side Baby," among others. He digs in and makes them Floyd McDaniel songs, absolutely.

It's prime, vibrantly alive music. Floyd plays a very soulful lead and his vocals are right there too. It's some stunning music if you dig the real blues. It's the way I'm sure he would want to be remembered. Click on the Delmark link below for more info and/or to order a copy.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

California Guitar Trio Presents "Andromeda," Celebrates 20 Years

Twenty years of the California Guitar Trio. That is something to commemorate and celebrate. That's in fact what they do on their latest, Andromeda (CGT 7758) (available as CD or LP).In case you missed them, they spun off from Robert Fripp's League of Crafty Guitarists and play three lovely sounding acoustic guitars. And a big part of why they sound lovely is the playing of course.

The new album is a bit of a culmination of where they've been going in the last two decades. There are the contrapuntal figuration patterns that are quasi-minimalist, strumming and picking patterns and melodic ensemble segments of great beauty and a kind of cosmic chamber mentality.

This one is no doubt one of their very best. The originals (which comprise all of the selections) are bright and glowing. There are some guest musicians here and there who add color and depth to the pieces. What else? It's really pleasant and intricate. It's progressive acoustic music I suppose. Whatever you want to call it, it is highly recommended.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Junior Wells Kicks Tail on a Previously Unissued Live Recording

When I was a kid there were bargain 45-rpm record deals to be had at my local 5 & 10. You'd get something like 10 records for, if I remember right, $1.19. They put a minor hit on the outside edge of each side of the package, to entice you to buy. Buried within were eight more records, and those were not hits. You'd wind up with all kinds of things. In one pack I found a single by Junior Wells, "Up in Heah." I listened and I was entranced. It sounded like the Rolling Stones (well, in a way), only better. I had discovered the blues, the source! I bought some more "flop packs," as my peers called them, and was turned on to more blues artists, Jimmy Reed, for example. I was hooked. And I realized that music that was not in the top 10 pop charts could be good, great, even better than the hits! My listening expanded from there but I was a confirmed Junior Wells fan from that moment on.

Junior passed in 1998 and the world lost a great one. But of course his music lives on. Now we have an unearthed treasure to savor, a previously unreleased Junior Wells live date with his wonderful Aces, Live in Boston 1966 (Delmark 809). The sound is good and Jr. and the band is smoking! What a band. Junior vocals and harp, the legendary Fred Below on drums, Louis Meyers on guitar and Dave Myers on bass. At the time of the recording they were one of the hottest and hippest blues bands alive and they show you how hot on these sides.

They cover some of the blues classics in a way the only Jr. Wells and the Aces could. After his version, who cared about the others? This is blues with a blazing immediacy, soul incarnate. Live in Boston captures the excitement of live Junior, one of the greatest blues acts that ever graced the stage in a small club. And he was at a peak in 1966!

From "Feelin' Good" (He sings "gonna boog-gae" like his immortal sound depended on it) to "Got My Mojo Workin'" this is totally prime Wells and Aces.

Oh I know you know, if you know. But even if you KNOW, this is the stuff to KNOW. This is a killer disk, a knockout, a TKO in the first round. Do NOT miss this, if you have a soul, if you have soul, if you have soles on your shoes to walk down to your neighborhood record store (oops, there aren't any left. . . ) well take a virtual walk through cyberspace if you need to, just get to a place that sells this one. Like, which you can get to by clicking the Delmark link in the section below. Then pop it on your player. Then you'll really KNOW you KNOW. Honest.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bassist Hugo Carvalhais Crafts Some Extraordinary Ensemble Jazz

Portuguese bassist Hugo Carvalhais has shown on the new Nebulosa CD (Clean Feed 201) that there is a way to have some really interesting free-yet-structured music going that incorporates electronics as it would another horn or keyboard--that is, they become an integral part of the ensemble.

On this recording date it's a very intelligent mix of Hugo on bass and electronics, Gabriel Pinto on piano and synthesizer, Mario Costa on drums, and, for most of the cuts, the always-coherent Tim Berne on the alto.

Mr. Carvalhais plays a meaty and well-conceived style of contrabass with great attention to sound and use of space; Gabriel Pinto has a harmonic-melodic richness to his playing that adds much to the group; Mario Costa drives and tumbles from the drum chair in ways that suggest adeptly various velocities and densities in the freetime zone; Tim Berne is magnificent as you might expect; the electronics provide quasi-orchestral sound colors and timbres that really add to the music. And Mr. Pinto takes a few nice synthesizer-as-horn solos that bring out another dimension to the group.

This could easily be passed over in the scuffle for attention that characterizes the new release media blitz. It most assuredly should not. Because there is some terrific music here--compositionally, improvisationally and ensemble-wise.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Michael William Gilbert Paints Aural Soundscapes of Beauty

According to what I read Michael William Gilbert was taken in his formative years with the music of Varese and Pierre Henry plus the music of India, Africa, and Japan. Since the '70s he has been forging his own brand of electronic music, culminating in his latest CD I Can See From Here (Gibex 006). The early influences are embedded somewhere in his approach, but there is a decided contemporary, post-previous sound to what he does in 2010.

These are rock-inflected soundscape pieces that are aurally rich, melodious and almost visual in their immediacy. Guitarist Peter Kaukonen puts in a nice appearance on one of the pieces. The rest are Mr. Gilbert performing feats of musical wizardry by himself. That does not imply that the music has a "solo" sound to it. On the contrary this is a full ensemble of musical voices. The sources are electronically generated or sampled; they are transformed in quite imaginative ways.

This is music where world and rock grooves underpin the melodic envelopes, and that factor should help make the music accessible to a wider audience.

It is a fine outing. The music is engaging, lush and cavernous in ways that put you into another zone. Kudos to Michael William Gilbert for that!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guitarist Joe Morris and the New CD "Camera"

Joe Morris is a horizontal cat. By that I do not mean that he spends his time lying on the couch. It's his improvisation style on guitar. It has extraordinary linear motion. Like a Jackson Pollock canvas he fills out his improvisations in an all-over sort of way. Not from top to bottom so much as from point A to point B. His lines are inventive, harmonically multivalent, continuous and very expressive. It's safe to say that nobody sounds like him. And it's not just that he is note-ful. He constructs melodic cells that not-so-much repeat as they form sets of variations on variations, continually spiraling upwards, to return at each pass in a differing way. And yet it is not cyclical lines he constructs, really. They are horizontal, reaching toward the future.

Well that's my take. Joe Morris is a guitar original. There's no better place to experience his playing than on his latest CD, Camera (ESP 4063). That's a nicely extended live set recorded this year at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Joining him is the equally all-over Luther Gray on drums, plus a kind of string section of Katt Hernandez on violin and Junko Fujiwara Simons on cello.

You get plenty of time to hear the group in action, and the action is quite good. There is a uniqueness to the sound. And for me it's a kind of horizontal experience, a journey in time, an unfolding of avant improvisatory melodic richness.

Joe Morris has created his own musically free zone. Go there on Camera and get transfixed. Don't miss him, especially this new one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble and Their New CD "Celebrations"

This is the season when festive light and musical celebrations come together for a few weeks, regardless of one's religious affiliations. I admit I am just a little late on this one (though good music is timeless). There's a nice CD by Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble that will help bring some light into the early winter. Celebrations (MeII) takes four traditional melodies from the Chanukah festival, two from Purim, and one original, and puts together a program of some very cool modern Latin and contemporary jazz.

Eugene Marlow did the arrangements and plays a nice funky set of keys. The irrepressible master of the pocket, Bobby Sanabria is on drums, virtually guaranteeing that things will be hip. Michael Hashim puts in a good effort on the reeds and the engine room is completed by a limber Frank Wagner on bass and Cristian Rivera stoking the flames on Latin percussion.

Now with these sorts of musical adaptations, the music either works or it doesn't. It works, thanks to the very good chemistry of the band and Mr. Marlow's excellent arranging instincts and talents, not to mention his very lively presence at the keys. Michael and Bobby make the music breathe too--but then the whole band is on the mark here.

This is excellent music! And it fits the season. It fits any season.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Roy Gaines and his "Tuxedo Blues"

The blues are not dead! They continue to thrive in the hands of the best of those practicing today. One of them is Roy Gaines, whose Tuxedo Blues (Black Gold 001237) gives you the best of the urban blues right now. A swinging big band, Roy's warmly soulful voice and his compelling blues-meets-jazz guitar solo style are out front and on it. He came out of Texas, dug T-Bone Walker, played in the bands of Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker. . . all that should give you an idea where he is coming from.

He embodies the heritage of the soul-bluesman and he puts in something that is his. The blues feeling is there, solid, right down to the to the lyrics. (He wants to take his baby for a walk but those mosquitoes are too mean!)

Roy Gaines needs to be heard. He needs to be recognized as a happening cat. Buy this CD and you'll keep him out there doing it!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Kronomorfic Makes A Kind of Musical Magic

Some music sneaks up on you. You listen once and you think, "that's pretty interesting," but you don't drop what you are doing and run around the block shouting the news. Then later after more listens you start to appreciate the subtleties that only become apparent in time. That's how I experienced the Kronomorfic album Micro Temporal Infundibula (pfMentum CD059).

It's a collective of musicians with an improvisational-compositional agenda that doesn't quite fit into the typical pigeonholes ready-made to ease any uncertainties. It's a six-member outfit. David Borgo plays reeds, wrote one of the pieces, and arranged the music; Paul Pellegrin is a polyrhythmic force on drums and percussion and wrote eight of the compositions; Bill Barrett plays a lively chromatic harmonica; Junior Garrison plays a very atmospheric electric guitar; Nathan Hubbard gives the ensemble aural character on vibes and marimba; Danny Weller is on doublebass and pinions the groove and fundamentals nicely.

The music has an almost through-composed aspect to it. There are metrical grooves, highly interesting voicings for the ensemble, interestingly atypical melodies, contrapuntal ensemble densities that keep interest levels high, and some very worthy improvisations, especially from David Borgo. The improvisational and compositional elements integrate so well that the distinctions become less important in light of the total ensemble experience.

This is a kind of jazz that that grooves as it also provides some quite sophisticated musical fare. There are African influences and much else besides. Kronomorfic is a total pleasure for those with ears hungry for something beyond the ordinary. Very much recommended.

Monday, December 6, 2010

John McLaughlin’s New Electric Album “To the One”

It is most surely a good thing that John McLaughlin has been devoting much of his attention to the electric guitar. Not to take away from his acoustic playing, which has had some wonderful periods (I like the Shakti sides and the trio with Trilok Gurtu best), but after all it was as a musical electrician that John originally revolutionized the music world, with Miles, Lifetime, Mahavishnu and on from there.

When McLaughlin burst onto the scene he had of course incredible technique but also a unique harmonic-melodic-rhythmic approach. And he had a sound: wiry, screaming at times, very electric but also distinctive.

His new album with the 4th Dimension band, To the One (Abstract Logix 027), shows him in great form burning up the fretboard with 16th note runs, rekindling the old fire, letting the guitar breathe with natural pauses between phrases, doing the things you expect from McLaughlin. But his sound has changed. Now one cannot expect someone to keep the sound the same all the time. Especially with the electric guitar. These days he has a richer tone, in part a product of the effects he uses. It sounds like he's adding plenty of chorus and a little flanger perhaps. It takes some getting used to and it’s been a part of his new sound for a while so it’s not a surprise. It’s a different McLaughlin in that sense though. Maybe a tad more like other players in the fusion bag. That’s all fine but it is a factor in McLaughlin today, no less than the later Stan Getz had a different sound than the earlier. Artists hear a different sound, the technology of electronics changes and artists find something available to them that they like. So, cool.

In the main To the One is a strong outing. The band has Gary Husband on keys and drums and a second drummer in Mark Mondesir (and a great drummer is critical to the McLaughlin onslaught. We’re covered there.) Bassist Etienne M’Bappe sounds limber and on the game as the one in charge of the bottom.

The originals are mostly worthy, with a few a bit less distinguished than what one might expect. Some of the harmonic-melodic interest of the early McLaughlin seems to be less in the foreground. Perhaps it is more important to establish the new electric band at this point and work further magic as time goes by. This is an Inner Mounting Flame to a future Birds of Fire, perhaps. That would be nice!

The fact is though, that this is a very good McLaughlin outing. I hope this band keeps developing its repertoire and growing ever tighter. Cheers, then.

Adam Lane Returns with a Rather Stunning “Ashcan Rantings”

Adam Lane is not only one of the superb bassists of his generation, he is also a formidable composer and bandleader. The latest edition of the large Full Throttle Orchestra and the new 2-CD set Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed 203) shows all of this in abundance. Full Throttle is a kind of mini-big band with seven horns, bass and drums. Nate Wooley and Taylor Ho Bynam on trumpets and reedmen Avram Fefer-Matt Bauder are probably the best known of the lot, but everybody plays an important role in the proceedings.

Basically the music on this fine set has an out-front Lane as the effectively weighty anchor for all that transpires. There are wonderfully voiced horn lines, spirited ventures into straight-eight, swing, balladic choral, and freetime feels and arrangements that set off and balance the solos in a near-perfect symbiosis.

Everyone clicks, everything works and Mr. Lane gives us an album that exemplifies what contemporary jazz is all about when it’s done right: it’s in turn exciting, accomplished and both well-conceived and in-the-moment. If you buy only ten jazz albums this year, this might well be one you should include on your list.

Adler-DeFrancesco-Landham Create Organ Trio Heaven-On-Earth

I am back after several days without an internet hookup.

If you're going to do an organ trio, especially one that has a certain hommage-to-the-ancestors sort of spin to it, you should make sure you swing your a__ off. Guitarist Dan Adler does that, thanks to his own knack along with Joey DeFrancesco on the Hammond and Byron Lantham at the drums. On Back to the Bridge (EMDAN MUSIC 820360144325) they absolutely DO that.

Dan Adler has all the swing and facility to pull it off. He has the style DOWN. He can lay back on the beat just a hair to get the swing intensified, he has inventive ideas within the style, and flawlessly bright execution. This guy has it! Joey DeFrancesco on organ you probably already know about. But if you don't, this CD is a great example of his traditional Hammond artistry that gives just enough of the contemporary touch as to keep this from becoming an organ-trio museum exhibit.

The repertoire mixes grooved-out versons of standards, some jazz chestnuts that have not worn out their welcome and a couple of nice Adler originals.

This one kicks it. I will file it next to the classic organ trio recordings I have, because it is worthy to be included in the best of the tradition. More I cannot say. That says it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Gary Lucas Single "Music for the Eden Project"

There is more than one side to Gary Lucas, guitarist extraordinaire. There's the Beefheartian avant electric bluesman, the shredding bandleader, the explorer of interesting "world music" syntheses, the soundscape artist and the acoustic picking and sliding master. No doubt one could split out these different areas into further subdivisions, but that's for another day.

What is important at the moment though is that there's a new single 7" vinyl Gary Lucas solo recording Music for the Eden Project (Snakefork), and it gives you two rather delightful miniatures, both composed and performed for use in a psychedelic environmental installation put together by UK artist Paul McGowan.

Each side is devoted to one of Gary's stylistic pursuits. One side is a masterful example of the acoustic picking style Gary has so well developed, and it is melifluous while having a forward-moving, finger-picking motor thrust (try saying that fast 10 times before your bowl of Wheaties tomorrow morning). The other side is a mini-soundscape with the patented Lucas psychedelic guitar solo aided and abetted by various effects to enable Gary to do the whole piece in one shot live. Lucas music lovers will know from the various excellent releases what those two musical territories entail. The single gives you more and does not disappoint. My only quibble is that there isn't enough. I want more of this "more." But hey, it IS a single, isn't it? The limited edition release is in colored vinyl too (my copy is in green), so you get something cool to have as well as to listen to. You can grab the disk at Gary's website or go the the Snakefork Facebook page.

So who is complaining?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Roger Davidson's "Brazilian Love Song"

Roger Davidson's album Brazilian Love Song (Soundbrush 1018) is subtitled "30 Years of Brazilian Music." That is because it covers songs Roger Davidson has written between the years 1978-2008.

This is old-school bossa nova and samba jazz done by Davidson's quintet, which includes Davidson on piano plus percussion, drums, alto sax and acoustic bass. Davidson and altoist Aaron Heick turn in decent solos, and bassist David Finck can take some nice choruses with the bow or pizzicato. The rhythm section cooks and churns in the way one expects. But essentially the album stands or falls on the strength of Roger Davidson's songs and whether the classic Brazilian feel communicates. They do not disappoint. These are lyrically sumptuous musical repasts, well performed.

Davidson's mood here tends toward the cool realm. He doesn't kick off any super-burners. However the hour you spend with this music in a sitting is a delightful one. Nicely done, Mr. Davidson!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Greg Baker Plays the Guitar Music of Gene Pritsker

Gene Pritsker personifies the composer in the so-called postmodern world today. He engages with hip-hop, rap, r&b and rock while simultaneously developing an original style (or styles) in modern classical music. An aspect of that can be heard to good advantage on Scars, Wounds, and Lacerations: The Guitar Music of Gene Pritsker (no label listed).

This is a beautiful recording with Greg Baker as the guitarist on all pieces. The range of styles and moods covered are considerable. For example the title composition "Scars, Wounds, and Lacerations" is for solo classical guitar and consists of four short movements squarely in the solo classical guitar tradition, with more than a hint of Spanish influence, a wealth of inventive melodic ideas and well-crafted, idiomatic guitar writing. It is not a brutal piece as the title may suggest.

"Quaaludes and Fugues (Book One)" finds Greg Baker on the electric guitar for a series of fascinating, self-contained miniatures that vary from a kind of Mahavishnu-McLaughlin sound to modern contrapuntal writing that reflects Bach as much as rock.

The "Two Dances for Four Electric Guitars" puts Baker in the overdub mode for some lively motored sounds where the part writing is as modern as it is timelessly inspired.

The "Requiem" brings us into metal territory as Baker wields a distorted, effect laden guitar and is accompanied by a sampled band-orchestra. Here we have Gene Pritsker at his avant best. The four movement piece juxtaposes quirky yet idiomatic metal with all kinds of backdrops, from electronica with a backbeat to world music samples manipulated for maximum pulsation, to a loop of a snippet from what I believe is Mozart's Requiem used as a looping ostinato for some metal guitar pyrotechnics.

Scars, Wounds, and Lacerations" maintains Prtizker's subversive disregard for genre distinctions while providing some breathtaking music.

Pritzker is a phenomenon. Greg Bell is a guitarist who can convincingly and masterfully pull off the many stylistic shifts and collisions the music affords. There are few guitarists I can think of that could do justice to the wide scope of Pritzker's music. And it's not just that Mr. Baker does it; he thrives in the process, showing true artistry.

If you have an open mind (open ears) this one will get your attention and bring you much musical pleasure. Hats off to Gene Pritzker and Greg Baker for having the courage to even attempt to realize such a hugely disparate setting for the six-stringed instrument, and then to realize it with great beauty and skill.

See my other postings on this blog for more on Gene Pritzker's music.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Joanna Newsom's EP with the Ys Street Band

Joanna Newsom made an EP with her Ys Street Band in 2007, the end of the middle of her recording sequence. Her vocal chords had developed a medical condition and her voice was changing, though it sounds great. The CD or download is simply titled Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP (Drag City 336).

This is a three-song compilation but it's all good. Her and the band get into a kind of alt folk thing, and it's lovely. Her harp playing is well-healed and stunning, her vocal style and musical outlook are like nobody else out there. Her songs are things of wonder. Now I'm not just saying that. I am not kidding here. The highlight is a 13-minute version of her "Cosmia," which includes some great instrumental parts and a kind of alt-folk jam. Whoever is playing the musical saw (sounds like) adds just the right element. This song in this version is worth the price of the EP.

Wonderful music! A download is around $3. Spring for it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Raga Bop Trio Brings Their Own Perspective On the Indian-Fusion Nexus

The Raga Bop Trio does not remain content imitating those who have gone before them in the lively hybrid formed out of combining Indian traditional and rock-fusion streams.

That is in part a product of the backgrounds of the three musicians concerned.

Drummer Steve Smith comes out of fruitful associations beginning with Jean-Luc Ponty and the prog rock group Journey. George Brooks is an altoist with key collaboratons in the Indian-fusion realm, including associations with Zakir Hussain, Larry Coryell (Bombay Jazz) and Indian flute virtuoso Hariprasad Chaurasia. Guitarist Prasanna brings to the mix a thorough grounding in South Indian Carnatic traditions. He has collaborated with many notable players, including Vijay Iyer, and he has been a successful and musically substantial film score composer.

All three are at their best on their debut, the self-titled album Raga Bop Trio (Abstract Logic BLX 025). Steve Smith is a very actively grooving presence with a rock-fuse heft and some very well developed full-set tabla-like creations. George Brooks has a very earthy tone and does much to give the group its sound. He also pens some of the best of the originals. Prasanna is a wonderful guitarist who brings the Carnatic alive as an electric force. I love the veena style shake-bends he does, for example. But he can also rock the house.

Together they work through an impressive program of compositional material and full-out jams. This is no superficial hybrid. The rhythmic and melodic aspects of Indian classical are thoroughly and skillfully intertwined with rock and fusionoid drive.

If you like the idea of these sorts of new grafts onto the musical plant, you will most certainly find the Raga Bop Trio to your liking. They do a superb job on their inaugural outing. Encore!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tango From Raul Jaurena, Bandoneonist of Note

Happy Thanksgiving for those readers in the States. The holiday goes back to Abraham Lincoln. Before that it was Patriot's Day, in early December, when everyone was supposed to eat, not turkey, but succotash!

A shift of gears to Raul Jaurena, a world-class bandoneonist originally from Uruguay. His new album from Soundbrush Records (SR 1017), Fuerza Milonguera, is a well-produced album of tangos, some by Raul.

The orchestrations are spirited and well-conceived, the bandoneon playing first-rate, and all-in-all I must say I was impressed with the whole package.

Lovers of the tango, here's one you will surely like, I think.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Elliott Sharp's "I Never Meta Guitar" Anthology

Based on Elliott Sharp's wide-ranging and intelligent webcasts on MOMA's PS1 website, I gained an appreciation for Mr. Sharp's keen ear for the contemporary and its roots. That appreciation has continued to grow after repeated listens to the anthology of modern solo guitar apty dubbed I Never Meta Guitar (Cleanfeed CFG 005) that Elliott curated and produced and that has been hitting the distribution avenues in the last several months. It's a selection of some of the brightest lights on the guitar scene today, as defined by the idea that they are doing new work, some avant garde, some just ahead of the pack in some less specifically formulizable way, some simply excellent purveyors of imaginative guitar playing.

There are 16 relatively brief pieces on the disk, some electric, some acoustic, some with a "prepared" guitar. Many are unaccompanied solo works; others include others. Either way it's a very cogent summing up of the present and perhaps some of the future directions that will branch from current practice.

Every cut is worth hearing. The list of guitarists is impressive: Mary Halverson, Jeff Parker, Henry Kaiser, Nels Cline, Brandon Ross, Michael Gregory, and Elliott himself are some of the more well-known participants. There's even a little banjo to be heard. Most of this could go under the rubric "improvisation," though some pieces sound worked out pretty thoroughly.

There's acoustic picking, slide, hammering-on, electric shredding, sound sculpture, soundscapes and much in between. The disk ends with Elliott Sharpe's rather incredible hammer guitar send-off, "Telemetry."

This is it. It's the dope on what is new in the world of the guitar and its currency as a solo vehicle unto itself.

No self-respecting guitarist or guitar fan should miss this one, seriously. It puts a frame around where we are so we can study, admire, and gain from it. That's very important and Elliott shows he's just the one to put it together.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

George Breinschmid, Bassist and Iconoclast

George Breinschmid was a bassist with the Vienna Philharmonic before he turned to jazz, and he's been doing alright for himself--the Vienna Art Orchestra, Archie Shepp, etc. The new album of his, Brein's World (Preiser 90787), a two-CD set, shows that he plays a very out-front bass that is as extraordinary eclectic as is his music. Imagine a stylistic universe that embraces everything from Arvell Shaw to Charles Mingus and beyond. That's Georg, the bassist. He slaps and punktes his instrument with great elan and a sense of balance.

And the music? It's so all-over-the-place that you may need a compass to keep your bearings. There's a kind of Hot Club swing minus Django, there are some bizarre sorts of lopey acoustic hip-hops, some playing around with the classical repertoire (Bach especially), interesting contemporary sounds, folk music and what sounds like beer-hall songs--all done in a drumless chamber context with trumpet, piano, violin, and etc.

The two full CDs have so much going on that I can't possibly capture it all here, and not all of it is perfect, but it has such joie de vivre and panache that you can't help going away from this music with a smile on your face.

It's fun, a rare sort of thing in serious jazz these days. But it IS. Get this one and you'll get some very interesting bass playing, unusual arrangements, and a musical trip across the many landscapes inside Brein's brain. Wow!

Monday, November 22, 2010

"The Glenious Inner Planet" is a Very Cool Place

Electric Bassist Glen Ackerman is on to something good with his band and new CD, both titled The Glenious Inner Planet (Blue Bamboo Music 016). This is the not-stupid sort of fusion. It has the rock aspect with some sophistication and brightness to the compositions, which are by Glen (except for a nice version of Brubeck's "Blue Rondo"). Woody Witt puts in good solo time on reeds, Paul Chester sounds good on guitar, Ted Wenglinski gives us some nice electric piano, and either JD Guzman or Joel Fulgum occupy the drum throne with the properly driving sensibilities.

This is Glen Ackerman's album though, so you get his vision up front: some nice bass solos and a post-Return-to-Forever perspective with nothing coy or cute, nothing commercially vapid. Just really solid, good fusion. I would recommend it. In fact I DO recommend it!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tarun Bhattacharya and "The Best of Indian Santur"

Ravi Shankar's Gharana (school) of North Indian classical music included the late Ali Akbar Khan, his father Allauddin Khan and, of course, Shankar himself, who studied with Pandit Allauddin Khan. Ravi Shankar in turn has introduced the practices of his Gharana (and his own innovations) to another generation of Indian music masters, one of which is Tarun Bhattacharya, who plays the santur. The latter is a many stringed instrument that is struck with plectrums, similar to the Hungarian cymbalom or the hammered dulcimer of North American folk tradition. Think of it as like half of a string frame of a grand piano and you get some idea (but see the cover image reproduced here).

There is a new CD of Tarum Battacharya out called The Best of Indian Santur (ARC Music 05111), and it is an excellent listen. There are performances of three ragas plus a light-classical piece.

Bhattacharya is a master of the santur. He has a dramatic sense of dynamics and a strongly lyrical but percussive style. He can get dampened staccato notes by pressing the plectrums onto the strings without immediately bouncing them off, he can do slide notes with his plectrums, a buzzing sort of "press roll" sound, and otherwise is quite masterful. His alaaps are well conceived, his middle-tempo playing maintains forward momentum and inventive brilliance, and he creates exciting, rapidly moving jhaptals in tandem with the tabla player (Shiv Shankar Ray).

If Shivkumur Sharma is the best known of the Indian santur players in the States, Tarun Bhattacharya is quite in his league and his own stylist.

This is a wonderful recital, worth every minute you spend listening to it. Those who don't know the magic of the santur are in for an experience!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tomas Janzon: Subtle and Swinging Guitar

If you like a mainstream sort of jazz guitar, there's Tomas Janzon, Swedish native, New York resident, and someone who benefited greatly from listening to Wes Montgomery. He has a CD out this season, Experiences (Changes Music 113), and it manages to put together chops with a kind of charm.

He's playing a 1959 Gibson semi-hollow, and he turns down the treble to get that mellow sound that Wes and others of his era favored. He's wisely chosen a threesome of players who know how to get the most out the style Tomas works within. "Tootie" Heath is on the drums, and he sounds as good as he ever did. Art Hillary on organ & piano and Jeff Littleton on acoustic bass make the session a breeze.

The program runs through a couple of American Songbook standards, five jazz repertoire staples, a Janzon original, and a Swedish folksong in a studio and a live version.

What's important is how Janzon shows his Wes roots and admiration by building on the Riverside-period sound and style of the master rather than slavishly imitating him.

I find that worth plenty of ear-time. If you follow the Montgomery school of stringing, this will be a good one to pick up. It's quite enjoyable regardless.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prester John: Duet Jams for Acoustic Guitar and Mandolin

Prester John is Shawn Persinger on acoustic guitar and David Miller on the mandolin. Together they create music that shades into territory that encompasses a jazz hybrid coming from the acoustic-folk-country end, like Tony Rice, Bela Fleck and some of Jerry Garcia's latter enclaves have done, but with a different take on the possibilities.

Desire for A Straight Line (Innova 774) pairs the two on 16 numbers, a few very short, the rest of them longer. The head compositions are sophisticated, well put-together, and composed by Persinger. There's a touch of the fusion-meets-bluegrass sort of notey-ness here and there, but not as show-offy as it is integral to the pieces involved. In the end you get some very lovely, well-played music.

It's a music of acoustic brightness, with plenty for the guitar and mandolin enthusiast to savor, dig into and appreciate. Kudos.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Septeto Nacional Ignacio Pineiro for Old-School Son

Incredible as it may be, the Septeto Nacional Ignacio Pineiro is the descendant of the band Ignacio formed in Cuba in 1927. They were instrumental (and vocal) in creating the style known as son habanero, which was the precursor of salsa. Though Sr. Pineiro passed away in 1969, the band is still going strong, with a fourth generation of players keeping the sound very much alive. They have a new CD Sin Rumba no hay Son! (Without Rumba There is No Son!) (World Village 468105).

This is music that transcends borders and speaks right to your musical soul. A key to the band is the hot trumpet soloist. But the vibrant presence of a tres (akin to a 12-string acoustic guitar) and a Spanish guitar gives the music its backbone.

You get 14 lively numbers on the CD, played with love and fire, recorded with excellent clarity. Clear a space in front of your speakers, because you may well have the irresistible urge to dance!

Monday, November 15, 2010

District 97: Original Progressive Music Group in First Offering

We've had a resurgence in new progressive sorts of rock lately. Some sound familiar, as if you are listening to a new album by a group you already know. Others do not sound that way. District 97 does not.

Hailing from Chicago, the band recently released their first album, Hybrid Child (Laser's Edge 1057), and it's a good thing they did, to my mind.

Leslie Hunt has a rock voice that's worthy of the music the band creates. Drummer Jonathan Schang wrote all the songs on the CD save one, which he co-wrote with Leslie. The instrumentation of cello. keys, guitar and bass seems right for what they do. And what they do is memorable. The songs stick in the mind, the prog routines and solo spots are filled with good musicianship and attention to the craft.

To me District 97 is a great example to play if someone wants to know what's good in the prog revival. They rock hard and they have great lines to work with. What more can you ask for? We can ask for a second album, that's for sure. I hope they keep growing because this is an impressive start!

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Chinese Pipa Music by Gao Hong

The pipa stringed instrument has been a fixture of traditional Chinese music for many centuries. More like a guitar (it has a neck, for example) in construction than a koto, in the right hands it has a delicate resonance that distinguishes it from any other. Gao Hong certainly has the right hands.

Gao also has a conceptual mind that dares to compose and arrange music that brings the traditional Chinese instrument into a musical world it has not inhabited before. Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream (Innova 240) is quite an achievement. Mr. Hong plays with a real virtuoso's mastery. He has for this album created six quite varied musical contexts. He can be found playing a fascinating Chinese-Indian hybrid, a contemporary-improvisation-meets-Chinese-meets-Japanese-Taiko-drumming piece, in a quasi-Western-classical mode, and in a solo context where the pipa tradition is invoked with sensitivity and musical bravura.

I've certainly never heard anything like this one before. What's most impressive is not so much that he attempts these unusual and unprecedented stylistic syzygys. It's that the resulting music wholly succeeds; so much so that it even sounds like a natural and inevitable thing that's been happening for centuries, which of course it has not.

I can't say enough nice things about this one. If you want to branch off onto a quite different musical path, listen to this one. It's rather incredible really.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nirmala Rajasekar on The South Indian Veena: "Into the Raga"

I have been a great admirer of Indian music since the days when Ravi Shankar nearly became a rock star after Beatle George began studying with him. It was a little later that I started becoming familiar with the Carnatic (South Indian) classical tradition. That way of making music is the older of the two traditions (the north generally embracing the Hindustani style, in which Ravi Shankar is an important exponent).

Generally speaking the Carnatic tradition relies a bit more on compositional elements that form around a traditional raga. Where the sitar is the more popular plucked stringed instrument in the north, the south has the veena.

At this point we introduce today's CD, a Carnatic performance by veena exponent Nirmala Rajesekar, accompanied by violinist Raghavendra Rao and a two-man drum team of Tanjore K. Murugaboopathi on the mridangam (a two-headed drum played in similar ways to the North Indian tabla), and V. Suresh on Ghatam, a clay jar struck on its side with metal finger attachments and also sometimes manipulated at the opening with the hand, creating the bass sound.

Ms. Rajasekar performs a mini-concert on the disk at hand, Into the Raga (Innova 230). There are a number of compositions performed based on various ragas. And there is the section where the two drummers engage in a solo dialog, always an exciting part of the Carnatic presentation.

Ms. Rajasekar plays the veena with sensitivity and finesse, and with the violinist goes through the compositional passages with great command of the style. It is not so much the speed of the phrases, though some are finger twistingly difficult, as it is the proper idiomatic phrasing, especially in terms of attention to micro-bends and shading. She most certainly has much in the way of mastery.

The twin drum team is impeccable. South Indian drummers are some of the most advanced rhythmic virtuosi known in the world, and these two are excellent examples. The drum solo that occurs towards the end of the CD is breathtaking in its spiritedly flawless execution of extraordinarily complicated rhythmic phrases.

Whether you already are a connoisseur of the Carnatic tradition or you are a novice, this is a beautifully performed and beautifully recorded program that will give you much to appreciate and enjoy. Click on the Innova link on this site to find out more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Landsberger and Morello Do Some Cooking with "Hammond Eggs"

The organ trio has been resurging for a while now. If you add a tenor sax to the guitar, organ and drums combination you get the trio plus one, which is resurging no less. Of course just because it is back in fashion does not mean that everything released is equally worthy of acclaim. Formulas that starting getting stale in the later sixties are no less stale today. And if the group doesn't cook, the point of the undertaking could be lost.

I am happy to say that all that is not true with Jermaine Landsberger and Paulo Morello's Hammond Eggs (In & Out 77087-2).

Jermaine plays the Hammond B3 without resorting to much in the way of the Jimmie Smith licks that became so central to the idiom for a time (and still are in some circles). Paulo Morello plays the electric guitar with a nod to the traditional mainstream guitarists that have played in this idiom--but he doesn't cop their licks either. Peter Weniger plays a solid contemporary mainstream tenor; drummer Dejan Terzic runs the gamut successfully from flat-out swing to New Orleans marching funk.

They do a couple of standards, but mostly there are successfully wrought originals, blowing vehicles with some nice angles to keep things interesting. There are for example some very hip lines overtop a "Giant Steps" progression on the number entitled "Gypsy Steps".

Landsberger has most certainly learned from listening to early-mid Larry Young and Charles Earland, or at least his playing is modern in that sense. And with the band in great shape, doing some hip originals, this is a very attractive recording indeed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gene Pritsker, Sound Liberation, "Open Up Your Ears," 2008

Gene Pritsker, composer, guitarist and leader-founder of the Sound Liberation Ensemble. He is in the advance guard of musical genre conflationists out there. His Varieties of Religious Experience Suite was reviewed on these pages several months ago. We return to Gene and his 2008 album with Sound Liberation, Open Up Your Ears and Get Some (Col Legno 20902).

Now this one is not quite at the level of VRE. Part of the reason for that is that it is divided into 13 separate pieces, each one an entity into itself. There is of course nothing at all wrong with that. But one tends to get on the wavelength of each piece separately, which of course is the idea of a series of short "songs." The cumulative effect, for me anyway, was a good one. But the epic aspect of a longer work puts a singular impression on the listener. This one gives you a multiple set of universes.

Sound Liberation covers considerable ground here, in ways that captivate and intrigue. In the course of the album there are liberal slices of standard classical repertoire refitted into a contemporary rock-hip-hop context. There's an operatic tenor, some raps from Gene and others in the group, hip-hop stylings combined with just about everything, and ambitiously interesting r&b-pop-art songs sung enchantingly by (I believe) Ninni Lindh, with background accompaniment that for example might feature a string quartet, then a rap-against-choral passage out of a kind of baroque sensibility, some very cool guitar soloing, and then on from there.

The thing about the genre synthesizing, and it's true of anybody working with these sorts of things, is that not all artist-ensembles can handle every style with world-class excellence. In this case, the raps, while convincing, are not at the level of Snoop, Lupe Fiasco or Twista, say. The rhythmic punch, vocal tone control and stringing of rap wording are not quite at that level. But hey, who else is even trying to do this?

What you end up with on Open Up Your Ears is a far ranging and musically substantial album with moments that come together in a sublime new hybrid, and other moments that find Pritsker and the band working towards something that they are on the verge of nailing. The former outcomes are more frequent than the latter. And in the end this is some startlingly original music. I am very encouraged when I hear music like this. Cool, Gene. Keep on going!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Denver's Coyote Poets of the Universe: Zany Bohemian Irreverence?

The Denver music scene. I don’t know much about it, except that a group named Coyote Poets of the Universe are a part of it. I’ve been listened to their fourth CD Callin’ You Home (SSR). They have a sort of zany bohemian irreverence at times. There’s also a slight retro-acoustic-folk component. I haven’t heard the earlier recordings, so I don’t know where they’ve been musically. For this one there is a hodgepodge of poetry, political and humorous material and some post-hippie songs.

If everything was like the final cut, “Burnt Down,” this would be quite a record. That tune has some sincerely soulful vocals by I guess Melissa Ingalls. It’s a strong tune with some good obbligato fiddle, slide guitar and clarinet. The song deals with determination in the face of romantic disappointment and stands out as something to hear repeatedly. That one reminds me a little of something Tracy Nelson and Mother Earth might have done, were they doing something today. There are some other numbers that struck me. Alas, the rest did not. May they do more with the musical intensity of the last song and I’ll be a convert.

Originally posted by Grego on March 27, 2009 at

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bassist Lindsey Horner Explores an "Undiscovered Country"

One thing about Lindsey Horner, don't expect the expected. He has caught the listener's ear and sometimes caught the listener's ear unawares. He's been a first-call acoustic bassist with many of the jazz world's most accomplished and interesting artists, like Muhal Richard Abrams, Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas and Myra Melford, he was a member of Jewels and Binoculars, a jazz group devoted to the music of Bob Dylan, and he's made a number of albums that cover a lot of ground. None of that quite prepared me for his new album, Undiscovered Country (Artist Share 0105). Unbeknownst to me Lindsey has also been performing with a couple of illustrious Irish folk artists. And the new album incorporates that experience into the mix.

The album, then, combines an electric fusion organicism with a folk element, sometimes bursting outright into a tuneful Irish song. Andy Irvine sings the vocals on those and they grab at you. One is from the composing pen of Irvine, the rest save one are by Horner.

The instrumentation is unusual. Lindsey of course is on bass, Rob Thomas plays a fine violin, then there's drums, marimba, tenor (Erwin Vann), two electric and one acoustic guitarist (with the former category sporting two good soloist, one a sort of modern-day equivalent of the late Sam Brown and the other with some slightly post-Garcia stylings), percussion and some assorted other instruments in a doubling situation.

It's a group that sounds different from the beginning. The different elements combine in ways that sound perfectly natural, though of course much initial thought and preparation must have gone into realizing the music. The result is a cross between the old folk-rock outfit Pentangle or the modern-traditional Irish group Patrick Street with fusionoid arrangements and solos, sometimes reminding a little of those Horacee Arnold albums from the'70s, but specifically in how the marimba and guitar(s) are utilized in the ensemble.

What it goes to show you is that it behooves us to open our minds to what is coming out these days. Sometimes you don't get exactly what you ordered. And when that happens, sometimes you get something that delights in its unexpected ingredients blended with mastery. Undiscovered Country is that sort of delight.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tim Motzer & Markus Reuter's "Descending" Creates a Brown Study in Sound

Tim Motzer was the guitarist-conceptualist on The Seven Dreams Goldbug album reviewed here a few days ago. Markus Reuter is the touch guitarist who has been involved with Tuner (see a CD review of their album on this blog) and others. Descending (1K 018) pairs the two with some select guests for a series of ambient soundscapes. It is a highly evocative, cavernous music of guitar loops and clouds of luminous tone clusters created in a post-Frippertronic manner. The six pieces don't really sound like Robert Fripp's masterful tapestries. Motzer and Reuter go it in their own way. Nonetheless there is a genetic affinity there.

Fact is though this is some very dreamy, very beautiful music. They take the winding old local road to their destination, with long tones and reverberant sounds that are in no hurry to resolve themselves.

The effect on this listener is relaxation and the tendency to drift in and out of various reveries. At the same time though, there is enough substance here in the handling of tone colors that it never feels like this is some mere mood music, the aural equivalent of a lava lamp. There's much more to it.

Very nice. You want to feel some space between your ears? This one will most definitely do a great job clearing the way for that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

El Guincho's New Album "Pop Negro"

El Guincho combines beats and sounds from tropicalia, Afrobeat and dub, chopping and reassembling ideas for a new highly danceable hybrid. This music has drive and melodic strength. Pop Negro (Young Turks) has the production slickness of a contemporary dance record but of course musically and beat wise it is on another, very hip planet.

I've been digging the sounds and it makes me think about these beats and where they are coming from. But you don't always have to know where something is coming from to know where it is. And where it is is different. It's not something I'd ordinarily come across these days but I think El Guincho is on to something new. Can't say as I don't like it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bassist Tony Grey Makes "Unknown Angels" A Memorable Outing

Tony Grey, bassist, multi-instrumentalist and writer of interesting music, has just come through with his third album, Unknown Angels (ObliqSound 110). He's played with McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Zakir Hussein, Branford Marsalis, a pretty heavy list for someone who is not all that old. They needed a good electric bass player, one thinks. As we sometimes find out, that doesn't mean that a solo album by someone with such credentials is going to put you in a great place for your ears.

That's what I was thinking when I first put this one on for a first hearing. Turns out this is no lightweight entry into the 2010 offerings. McLaughlin and Hussein's Indian-fusion influence is there, especially via John Shannon, who plays some interesting lines, there are wordless vocals a la Pat Metheny (Tony Grey has a nice voice), and Tony's bass playing has the post-Jaco fortitude one might expect these days.

Unknown Angels has that "something else" that makes this an album that is not just "nice" but stays in your head. The composition, arranging, and overall execution of Tony's pieces are what puts this one above something noteful but not notable. It's fusionoid and ambient, it cooks sometimes and there is some really hip bass, good drumming and all the rest. In the end though the melodies linger on in the mind. You pick up the CD after a few listens and you say, "yes, THAT one," instead of "hmm...I know I played this a bunch of times but I feel a blank."

It's lyrical, thought inspiring, dream and reverie inducing. I would recommend this one to anybody who wants to hear some musically informed, poetic, fus-e-logian sounds. Recommended.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mahanthappa's Indo-Pak Coalition with Abassi & Weiss

South Asian classical music has one of the richest heritages of any on the planet. In the right hands the tradition can be extended into Western improvisational contexts with movingly impressive results. We've had Mahavishnu and Shakti, of course, and others.

One of the best of recent endeavors comes out of a meeting of three of the most accomplished of the new wave of players. Alto saxman Rudresh Mahanthappa heads up the group known as the Indo-Pak Coalition. Their CD Apti (Innova 709), out for a couple of years, is one of the most singular and moving of such efforts. The trio includes Rez Abbasi on electric and acoustic guitar and electric sitar, and Dan Weiss on tabla.

I've covered all three players on the Gapplegate blogs, and for good reason. Mahanthappa is one of the more exciting alto men to come along in recent years. He has an unmistakable sound and a way of improvising in complex chromatic-modal blazes of fire that soar with their own trajectory. Abassi is a guitarist that has gotten my attention for a number of years as an extraordinary adept improviser who manages to negotiate the thickets between McLaughlin, Metheny and Abercrombie without sounding like any of them. And technically he is one of those monsters, but one who places personal expression and good musical sense before pyrotechnics. A rapidly articulated line always has a musical reason for existence with Rez. Dan Weiss is a drummer who to me did the incredible: he played a CD-length drum set solo based on the talas and bols of Hindustani music (see my pages for a review of that recording). And he did some amazing things there. He also has played with some notable others and has a couple of interesting recordings with his own group as well. Here he is on tabla, and I suppose I should not be surprised (I've never heard him on tabla in any extended way) but he is in excellent form.

What the Indo-Pak Coalition do on Apti is, like Shakti before them, combine rhythmic, structural and melodic aspects of South Asian music with the harmonic and improvisatory components of the jazz that each of them do so well. The Coalition do it all with their own distinct musical identities intact. It is music of a very high level of accomplishment and innovation. Mahanthappa and Abassi show mastery in what they play, the ensemble routines are quite complexly appealing and Weiss plays some very forward moving tabla.

Apti takes Indo-Pak-jazz-fusion onto very personal turf in ways that are exhilarating and filled with musical abundance. It is awe-inspiring music.

Friday, October 29, 2010

John McLaughlin, Mahavishnu at Montreaux DVD

The musical style of John McLaughlin has taken many zigs and zags since his emergence with Tony Williams and Miles Davis in the late ‘60s. The original Mahavishnu Orchestra sent guitarists, drummers, keyboardists and violin wielders to the woodshed to try and catch up. The band had such technique and fire! McLaughlin was not merely technically amazing; his rhythmic-melodic amalgam and the group concept went way beyond what anybody had done before. Then that band broke up and new Mahavishnu groups, Shakti and all kinds of permutations in his approach occurred over the next 30 years or so. But nothing was quite like that original band. It was natural for some to be disappointed with the later incarnations of the group. Nothing quite matched that first burst of flame. Yet looking back those realignments in the Mahavishnu personnel and repertoire were not nearly as big a letdown as they seemed at the time.

This brings us to a two DVD set that has been out for a bit but I am only now getting around to reviewing. I speak of Mahavishnu Orchestra Live at Montreux 1974, 1984 (Eagle Eye). First off, for a very modest price you get hours and hours of music, 234 minutes to be precise. The 1974 disk alone contains a 45 minute or so video of the band in action and another 70 plus minutes of additional music for audio only. Today we deal with that first disk. The second will be covered later.

The picture quality and sound are first rate. The 1974 group added a string quartet and several horns, mostly for orchestral texture. This was the band with violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, who of course added another astoundingly proficient improvising voice to the mix. Michael Walden filled Cobham’s shoes with bravado and manages here to seem nearly as boisterous as the indefatigable Billy.

The music gives wide scope for some astounding McLaughlin soloing and so also for Mr. Ponty. The two are in great form! Musically the material consisted of new numbers the band had worked up and a few pieces from the earlier repertoire. No LP release of the time came close to giving a representative view of what the band could do. This DVD does that well and the 1974 concert has a great deal of fine moments. I was less captivated by the 1984 disk, but that is a story for later. McLaughlin fans at any rate should not hesitate to find this one. It should give you many hours of enjoyment. Anybody new to McLaughlin who hasn’t listened to Birds of Fire by the original Mahavishnu might do better to start there.

Originally posted on March 26, 2009 at

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Goldbug's "The Seven Dreams": Spacey, Fused Soundscapes

There is most definitely a trend out there, and Goldbug's The Seven Dreams (1K Recordings 016) squarely places itself in the center of it. Take the riff-rock psychedelia that comes out of Miles Davis' seventies electricity and combine it with the spaced soundscape orientation that Robert Fripp and Brian Eno pioneered. Now that doesn't mean that there are large grafts of borrowed riffs and motives from the original plants. Far from it. Goldbug make their own music and it's a goodly original kind of end result they get.

Goldbug is a studio project that centers around Eric Slick on drums (Adrian Belew), Barry Meehan on bass, Theo Travis on reeds (Soft Machine Legacy) and Tim Motzer on guitar. They aren't afraid to create textures and envelops that have electro-acoustic transformations as their basis, and they combine that with a group orientation. There are grooves, sax and guitar solos that fit sometimes fragmented lines into the overall matrix, and there are loose freeplay passages that create a mood. The objective is to make music that hits you in blocks of atmospheric sound.

They succeed in giving you a program that has a thoughtful way about it, yet has a great store of power in reserve that you can feel the presence of in various parts of the work. Perhaps next time they will unleash a bit more of that power, even if it means disturbing the brown study of the cosmically oriented listeners. For now that doesn't matter because the music is most stimulating as it is.