Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa Steps Out with First Recording as Leader

Bassist Lisa Mezzacappa had a good idea when she thought of what she would do for her first album as leader: she took some musical fragments played by artists she had especially admired, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Dolphy, Ayer, Ornette, Kirk, Sun Ra, and built performance pieces out of them. There are also good cover versions of Captain Beefheart's "Lick My Decals Off, Baby," (it stays in the mind) and Steve McCall's "I'll Be Right Here Waiting." Then she chose to work with musicians she had long associated with: Aaron Bennett, tenor, John Finkbeiner, electric guitar, and Vijay Anderson on the drums.

Into the studio and now out comes What is Known (Clean Feed 192) by Lisa Mezzacappa and Bait & Switch.

The pieces hang together well. The band does too, via better living through (musical) chemistry and because in part they know each other musically from long association.

Bennett's tenor is raucous and energized, Finkbeiner plays some abstract and electric lines worth your ears' attention, Lisa M. has a forcefully strong tone and convinces with what she does. Vijay plays as a group member. What he does is right and it's thought through.

Now perhaps one could say that about alot of bands but in this case the material Lisa has put together moulds the end result to be smart, varied and quite stimulating.

This is a really nice first album and it plays repeatedly in my musical listening cycle right now. Definitely recommended for some worthwhile and very modern jazz improv!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dan Hicks and His "Tangled Tales"

Dan Hicks (and His Hot Licks) did for string band swing in the late '60s - early '70s what Jim Kweskin did for jug bands. He revived his version of it and made it popular, at least for a time.

Mr. Hicks has resurfaced in the last decade and made a number of albums that show him undiminished. There's one from 2008, Tangled Tales (Surfdog), and we take a peek at it today. It's Dan and his laconically droll vocal style along with female backing vocals, the chunk of an archtop rhythm guitar (is that him?), some guitar leads (some really pretty darned good. . . him?), a violinist and rhythm section.

All that goes together to create a kind of modified rock meets Django's backup band meets western swing overtones meets a little blues connotation. As always this is fun music not meant to be purist (whatever that might mean). He does some originals, a vocal version of Horace Silvers' "Song for My Father," "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Blues My Naughty Baby Gives to Me," and on from there.

This may not be his absolute best record, but it does divert and amuse, which is what it's meant to do.

I found it a nice refreshing change from my usual fare. You might also.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Bassist Lindsey Horner and "Don't Count On Glory"

Lindsey Horner plays a very solid bass, in solo or as an important building block to a band. He is also a gifted composer-arranger. All these skills come to the fore on his Cadence CD Don’t Count On Glory.

The concept for this one is a large band ensemble (of 16 members) containing a small band of rhythm and good soloists. There are some heavy cats in this ensemble, notably Marty Ehrlich on alto, Bobby Previtte on drums and some nice guitar contributions from Colter Harper and Eric Susoeff. There are plenty of high moments. It’s a contemporary date with a variety of feels and a sense of exploration. What’s most impressive is the writing and arranging. It’s very, very good. Mr. Horner is another guy who deserves to be better known. This CD is a delight. Check the Cadence link for more on the disk.

Originally posted on March 19, 2010 at

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cynthia Felton Sings Ellington

Cynthia Felton? Ellington? Sings? Yes. Take a singer with the sweetness of a Syreeta Wright, add a sharp musical intelligence, nuance, and terrific interpretation abilities. Then cherry pick some of Ellington's (plus Strayhorn's and Tizol's) most singable songs. What you get is this album. Cynthia Felton has that something that makes a singer worthy of your attention.

We are talking about the CD Come Sunday (Felton Entertainment 0002).

She's backed by a group of notables that include Cyrus Chestnut, Tain Watts, Ernie Watts, Wallace Roney and others, and they give everything the right framework.

She can scat and swing but I especially love her attention to musical detail on the more balladic numbers like "In A Sentimental Mood," "Come Sunday," and "Prelude to A Kiss."

The best singers can do a song that's been done countless of times and find a way to make in sound new. Cynthia Felton has that. And to do Ellington? Oh yes, that's a great idea. This one will speak to anyone. . .who listens. Wow, thanks Ms. Felton.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Matta Gawa's Avant Shred on "bA"

Engine Records is one of those small NYC boutique labels that provide alternative music seekers with some excellent avant jazz-improv. They use two-color offset printing onto sturdy brown stock for an underground looking no-frills all-music package. (Shades of the graphic arts classes of my youth! Lunch tickets!)

I've reviewed a number of their releases on my blogs and always look forward to a new installment. The arrival of Matta Gawa's bA
(Engine 035) defied my expectations (since after a while the unexpected becomes a kind of "expected"). This is a potent duo of Edward Ricart on a very electric guitar and Sam Lohman on freetime drums. Edward cranks out of a vintage Fender tube amp. He relies on loops as underlying ostinatos or sonic backwashes much of the time.

What surprised me (and not unpleasantly) was the uncompromising avant-shred ambiance of the recording. There are moments that sound like an extension of the more outside moments on the early Hendrix albums, only Matta Gawa develop their feedback and high intensity line-chord assaults in ways that (pardon the unintentional pun) sustain interest in the longer-form expositions and give musical utterance to a wider melodic-sound color palette.

It's full-steam ahead all the way, a flat-out blast off into the spacier realms of aggressive psychedelics. Now I happen to like that approach (as I do many others as well) and I must say this scores quite high on the freak-out meter. If you appreciate Sonny Sharrock at his more extreme and have a soft spot in your heart for the spacey jams that were sometimes a part of the Dead's stage show (especially in the early incarnations) this will certainly appeal to you.

Matta Gawa go their own way with the subgenre and they do it very well. Ricart and Lohman score a weirdo coup here. Listen and get zoned with these sounds. Encore!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Garrison Fewell's Variable Density Sound Orch: Sound Particle 47

We take a virtual trip to Boston today for the larger ensemble sounds of Garrison Fewell's Variable Density Sound Orchestra and their second album, Sound Particle 47 (Creative Nation Music 016).

This is advanced ensemble improvisation that begins where Mingus's larger ensemble works leave off and takes the music to further outposts and way stations in the realm of new sounds. For this recording we have a nine-piece group: Garrision on electric guitar plus Roy Campbell on trumpet, Steve Swell, trombone, Eric Hofbauer, guitar, Achille Succi, alto sax and bass clarinet, and other players, all on the game. The music was composed by Fewell and his sidemen along with a few by John Tchicai.

You get a roll-and-tumble music that has plenty of solo space, sometimes collectively. Swell and Campbell stand out, as do the guitarists, but everybody puts in their time with creative results. The ensemble size grows and shrinks within pieces in ways that provide listeners with contrast and aural adventure throughout the set.

The arranged-written parts come and go at various points, avoiding a head-solos-head approach.

Sound Particle 47 brings to you an uncompromising look at what thoughtful compositions and intelligent improvisation can do when built up by a very talent group of musicians. This is a first-rate performance of cuttingly acute music. Definitely recommended for an excellent example of what is going on right now.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

7 Day Binge: Bluesy Metal

Sometimes the promo review copies pile up and I feel like I am on a factory treadmill, to be frank. Yet each one has behind it a musician or group of musicians that put (one assumes) much time and effort to get to the point where I can hold the plastic jewel case in my hand. I take my somewhat humble role seriously. If something deserves to be heard I cannot let myself become blase.

So if I listen and review a CD by a group called 7 Day Binge, in fact a self-titled album of that description (Rock Ridge 61265), it behooves me to pay attention and not come forth with some kind of blithe horse manure designed to flatter my own notion of self-worth.

This is a band that draws upon and builds upon the bluesier elements of hard rock/metal. To suggest a group like Free or Led Zep has some relation to this music is not at all a stretch. There's also a Southern rock aspect to them. Yet they pull together with songs that do not sound as if they were cloned from the parental stock.

This is a now sort of venerable way to proceed: blazing guitar, punchy bass, hard, organic drumming and soulful rock vocals. It's not so much formula as style.

Seven Day Binge do a good job of it.

A band like this merits the attention of those who dig this kind of music.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Guitarist Joe Morris, Trumpeter Nate Wooley in "Tooth and Nail" Duets

A CD of all-improvisational duets between archtop guitar and trumpet is not a standard sort of offering. A rather starkly rigorous lineup of this type can be anything from mesmerizing to a raving bore. Thankfully Tooth and Nail (Clean Feed 190) falls closer to the former end of the spectrum than the latter.

Joe Morris, a player who seems to enjoy increasing exposure on disk, cajoles conventional and less conventional sounds out of his microphone-captured archtop guitar while Nate Wooley, another artist getting increasing attention, plays improvisational phrases that unleash an arsenal of techniques and ideas.

Morris and Wooley are exposed to our ears without the cushioning of a rhythm section, and so they face one of the more difficult challenges of the improvising artist. There are no corners to hide in; there are no other players to fill in the gaps and take center stage when the chops or ideas flag.

Both Morris and Wooley show amply on this recording that they have plenty of good improvisational ideas and that their chops are up to the endurance test.

It's helter-skelter, seat-of-the-pants musical performance all the way. Generally Morris and Wooley carry on a varied and contentful dialog with a kind of paralleling double voice rather than a call and response or line and counterline discourse.

In the process they enter rarefied improvisational realms. The music remains on a somewhat abstract level throughout. In that sense this is more or less a purist-modernist outing. Don't expect quotations from "On The Trail" or "BlueTail Fly."

Perhaps this music is not for everybody. Most music isn't. What it IS, it is consistently. It is a high-level example of advanced improvisational duets. And it's a good example of why both Joe Morris and Nate Wooley are getting so much attention lately. They gracefully carry their own weight but they also make that weight the standard by which similar ventures might be judged. In that way Tooth and Nail establishes a kind of standard measure for unconventional duet-ing.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Singer-Songwriter Allison Moorer and "Crows"

I don't know much about Allison Moorer. She sings, she writes songs. She wrote all the songs on her second album Crows (Ryko 11004). Somebody plays acoustic guitar here and there, but since the album does not list the musicians I don't know who it is.

When I came of age in publishing before the digital era there were graphic design do's and don'ts that we all paid attention to, because breaking them made it impossible to read the type. Those who design CD jackets today break all the rules and the result is that the type functions as a precious aesthetic object that is there for enhancing the design. The words aren't read. They cannot be. Crows isn't as bad as most, but it simply leaves out things like who is playing, so...

Anyway Allison writes alt-pop ditties that are attractive. The lyrics are a more-or-less serious sort of thing. She sings them with a lovely voice that has a certain affinity with Sarah McLaughlin. It's nice.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mercury Falls for Progressive Jazz-Soundscapes

There was a time in the '80s where ECM had a long string of recordings that had a certain sensibility--it was "jazz" with an ambiance. . . soundscape jazz, ECM jazz. New age music was generally a watered-down, all rough edges smoothed kind of simulation of this music and like disco was to funk, in some ways it made that parental form as passe as its illegitimate offspring, at least for a time. That's a long story with various personalities at the forefront of taste dictatorship, and we don't need to go into it.

Here from the perspective of 2010 the "holier than thou" assertion of what forms of music are allowed has been discredited and presumably all the various substyles that were subject to ideological repression are now free-er to flourish and continue developing.

Mercury Falls, a quartet that builds on the soundscape jazz genre, weights in with a debut album, Quadrangle (Porto Franco), and shows that there's still good music to be made. Led by guitarist Ryan Francesconi (who did some fine arrangements on Joanna Newsome's last album--reviewed in this blog; see below) and ably assisted on the baritone by Patrick Cress (plus acoustic bass and drums), Mercury Falls turns in a very appealing, atmospherically evocative series of tone poems.

Think of middle-to-later period Jan Garbarek or perhaps early David Torn and you'll get some idea where this music delineates, though this is no copycat project. This is not a set that features in-your-face, chops-out-front solos by the principals. It is a group effort, a blanket sound. It is well done and worth the effort of grabbing if you like mysteriously unfolding soundscapes that have various structurally distinctive forms. It's another, well-conceived wrinkle on that sort of thing and it's quite easy on the ears.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Klezwoods, a New Klezmer Band and First Release "Oy Yeah"

I am a huge appreciator of Klezmer. By now after a number of years of listening, I find that there is no one "authentic" style today and perhaps that's the point of a new band. If you go back to the 78s era you'll find various substyles that were dubbed Klezmer at the time. They have a repertoire more or less in common but otherwise the sound can vary from a kind of typical wind band used by companies like Victor to record just about everything circa 1905-1920, from Klez to Italian opera. Strings might be added. Then there are the smaller, folkish ensembles. Finally there are the working Klezmer bands, probably closest to what you could hear on the Lower East Side of NYC. They had the makeup of a mid-sized wedding band and they were notable for one thing in their greater attention to the rhythms of the dances that might be performed by patrons on a gig. In many cases there was an ornamental style floating over the principal melody line, usually played by the lead clarinetist, Dave Tarras being perhaps the most famous exponent.

Klezwoods is a modern aggregate led by violinist Joe Kessler. Oy Yeah! (Accurate 5060) presents them for the first time. It's a band that has much fun with the music. They cover traditional Klezmer repertoire along with Bulgarian, Turkish, Greek, Baltic and even Arabic music, which of course all have in common a kind of treatment of the minor mode. Klezmer groups could Klezmerize any sort of folk-dance tune from those areas and make it their own. Klezwoods is continuing that tradition. They even do a number based on Coltrane's "Giant Steps," which they humorously dub "Giant Jew."

The jazz element is present here, as it should be in any respectable Klezmer outfit. There is nobody doing a full Tarras-style ornamental obbligato part, but there are decent solo vignettes from the guitar, alto and etc.

This is 30 minutes or so of good music. Anybody who digs Klezmer will find this a solid slab of sound. Klezwoods play with joy and boundless energy. Is it authentic? There is no true "authentic," so best not to ask. It's good. It's a good example of a still living tradition. That's what counts.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Le Trio Joubran and "Majaz"

Le Trio Joubran are three brothers dedicated to art of the oud. The lute-like oud has many centuries of playing excellence behind it. The Palestinian oud exponents Trio Joubran, brothers all, extend and transform that tradition into today in their excellent recent album Majaz (World Village 479032). This time out the three oudists are joined by a percussionist who plays the dumbek and framedrum among other things, adding a driving rhythmic component that gives great dimension to the music.

The three oud players cover a set of music that has moments of haunting yearning, introspection and infectious momentum, alternatingly. With the addition of the percussionist they at times almost sound like a mid-eastern parallel to a group like Oregon, taking the folk-classical art tradition of their instruments and adding a contemporary component. It is a greatly successful venture, movingly performed.

The title cut "Majaz" for example sets up a thoughtful ostinato, then weaves memorable melodic two-oud lines overtop while the percussionist does quite excellent things with the pulse.

This group is a treasure. Majaz is a modern oud classic. I love it!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bob Gluck Trio's "Sideways" with Michael Bisio

Bob Gluck and his trio release Sideways (FMR 251-0108) stands out. A free-improv jazz piano trio recording is certainly not an unusual thing in itself. What Bob Gluck (piano & electronics), Michael Bisio (bass) and Dean Sharp (drums) do however is in no way common. Most of the pieces are Bob Gluck originals, with one by Michael Bisio, an Ornette Coleman classic, and two by the late Joe Zawinul.

Electronics color the music in ways that are subtle and organic. Mostly they are applied to the sound of the piano or piano and bass, and give added texture to the musical utterances. There is a heightened three-way dialog between the group members, but Gluck and Bisio are especially notable in their interactions. The music can be introspective, as in the haunting phrase that Mr. Gluck plays on the piano repeatedly on the title cut, with the other trio members adding to the mood. There are the sorts of loosely phrased cantabile passages where the three collaborate to extend the phases initiated by the pianist. There are the more hard-charging moments, moments for Bisio's improv prowess and a good deal of interesting and unusual utterances from Bob Gluck. He strikes me as an original voice in this music.

The overall feeling is one of freshness. The trio is not afraid to stray into new music zones. I wouldn't use the phrase "third stream" here, since that is not precisely what is happening (and the phrase has earlier stylistic connotations nowadays) but there is an expressiveness that evokes pan-stylistic sensibilities. Most importantly, the music comes together consistently.

Listen to "Lonely Woman" to get a quick feel for what they are about. Bisio's droning bass evokes the Coleman melody at the start and Gluck follows through with thematic statements of a high order.

The trio comes off as purposeful, directed, expressive and musically advanced. An excellent outing, well worth your time and money.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Greg Lewis, Organ Monk!

That the organ trio and the music of Thelonious Monk have been of continued importance in the music world as we enter the second decade of the millennium is quite understandable and right, but in 1971 I would have not been quite sure what the future was to hold. Monk was an honored elder statesman of the music back then, but his music wasn't played as much as it should have been; the organ trio seemed like it was on the way out (with of course the incredibly important exception of the original Tony Williams' Lifetime).

Forty years later and Greg Lewis's release Organ Monk seems as opportune as it is welcome. Greg Lewis is joined by guitarist Ron Jackson and drummer Cindy Blackman for this very hip romp through some of Monk's gems.

Anybody who has been out there listening knows that Cindy Blackman wields a monstrous talent on the drums. She has drive, fire and a way around the top (OK and the bottom) of the set that shows her to be a logical successor to Tony Williams, which fits totally with where this music is. No, I don't mean she is a Tony protege, just that she too has artistically advanced the level of drumming to be had these days. She is more in the tradition of Frankie Dunlop's Monk drumming than Ben Riley's. That means she is a melodic force in the treatment of the Monk head-lines. That may have gotten Frankie fired (if you believe the stories), but to me it added so much to the structural recognition of Monk's beautiful rhythmic asymetries. Tony dug it too, by the way. My point here is that Cindy plays beautifully on this album, and especially in how she reinforces the melodic content of the music. She forms a critical part of these proceedings. Not as a Dunlop or Williams imitator, but one who actively contributes (in a great way) to the Monkishness of the music.

Ron Jackson plays a very tasteful guitar on these numbers. His solos maintain interest and are far in advance of the typical organ trio guitar playing, yet his comping shows that he has fully groked what the guitarist's role is in the organ trio tradition. Nice work!

Greg Lewis, who cites Lifetime's indispensable Larry Young as a major influence, clearly has steeped himself in both the iconic organ-izing of Jimmy Smith and the progressive felicities of Mr. Young in his prime. It seems that something like that would be a prerequisite for making a good organ trio go at Monk's music. Or at least it makes the results a hell of a lot more interesting than a more straightly traditional approach.

Greg Lewis sounds totally relaxed and so comfortable with Monk's pieces that he has grown into them as an individual force. He and the band attack each number with love and care and get the maximum torque in play.

In the process this album gives notice that Greg Lewis is one of the important Hammond voices active today. He has linear flourish but taste as well; his is harmonically advanced in what he does with the music; and he swings. The whole band swings. He's encompassed all of the tradition (I even hear a little Milt Buckner there in "Locomotive")--and that means ALL of it--and made it the foundation for the Greg Lewis style.

For lovers of Monk, for lovers of the organ trio, this is one of those joyous releases. Joyously made, joyously heard. I will be happy and proud to file this in my collection not as "something I reviewed," but rather something I would have been happy to get under any circumstances. You may very well feel the same way. I would not be surprised and I would be pleased if it were to be well-received. It should be.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Social Distortion: Melodic Punk from the 2004 Album

A good friend of mine gave me a copy of Social Distortion's Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll (Time Bomb). I'm glad he did. The album came out in 2004 and was their last, though a new one is apparently in the works. This is Southern Californian in the fact that they hail from there. Beyond that I don't really have a clear concept if that region has a special style. I think it's Social Distortion that has that.

The album has some nice melodic material, done with an edgy grunge. Power chord progressions are proffered for your consideration. It's a well-built sound. The lead vocalist has a good inflection to his voice.

More than that it seems to me that this is a good example of how edge can be molded to songwriting. They do that well and so the package has definite appeal. I like this one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fozzy's "Chasing the Grail:" Progressive Metal with Musical Values

Fozzy is a group I don't know. Their album Chasing the Grail (Riot 01) was sent to me and I dutifully listened. It's a very competent bass-guitars-drums-vocals band. Their songs have something to them. Riffs are interesting, there are good lead vocals and harmonies and a wall-of-sound production that has the immersion factor going for it.

It has a concept going for it as well: in search of the holy grail. I'll admit I only half-heartedly listened to the lyrics and so I cannot completely vouch for what it's about. But you don't need me to vouch for that. There is a Dungeons and Dragons archaism happening with the words but I focused on the music, which to me is what matters most.

If I had a son and he was listening to this, I would figure he was getting some Vitamin M (for music), an essential nutrient. And since he may not be getting the vitamin at school much anymore with cutbacks (not excusable), at least he is getting it somewhere. But I don't have kids so that is moot.

Fozzy has some very nice moments going for it on the Grail CD.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

SKM: Gauci, Davis, Bisio in a New Recording

The drumless jazz-improv trio (in this case tenor, piano and bass) offers up different possibilities. Without the drums there is a transparency to the musical texture, the bass is exposed in its direct manifestations unmediated by the wash of the ride cymbal and snare-bass-drum punctuations. The bass becomes a third "horn," so to speak. The trio SKM (Stephen Gauci, tenor, Kris Davis, piano, Michael Bisio, acoustic bass) takes advantage of the opportunity in a densely creative self-titled CD just out on Clean Feed (189).

It's modern avant chamber jazz that gives equal weight to all three artists. All the various solo, duo and trio configurations are made good use of. This is serious music. Seriously advanced music.

Michael Bisio is his usual inventive self, using all manner of standard and augmented techniques to create a distinctive aural universe. He is a master. (Any reader of this blog has come across my various accolades on his artistry, so I wont repeat them here.) He is shown in especially good light in this project.

Kris Davis plays a piano that combines a Cecil Taylor motility with some Cagean prepared piano sounds on occasion. She has a finessed earthiness that comes out of her own sensibility. The end result is a player of distinction. She engages in wide-ranging flights of fancy. She is impressive and mixes her attack with the others in a sensitive and eloquent manner. (See my review of Paradoxical Frog at my Gapplegate Music Review Blog for more on Ms. Davis.)

Steve Gauci sounds terrific on tenor, as he always does, though for this outing he is especially inspired with rapid jabs and asymmetrical phrasing that give the three-way musical dialog a special quality (that Kris and Michael pick up on and give back in equal measure. OK, so the causal arrow can go three ways, but it is natural to hear the tenor as the lead instrumentalist if you listen frequently to this kind of music. Here it is a three-way affair, so suffice to say that his fragments of phrases are a mirroring of, and are mirrored by Kris and Michael's phrasings.) Steve also strings together some long, complicated-interesting lines when the music goes that way.

What is especially ear-grabbing to me is the judicious use of repetition here and there to intensify the particular emphasis at any given point. More than that SKM is improv at its best. The artists make a definitive statement. The CD should be heard by all those wanting to dig the latest in the improvisatory firmament. It makes for exhilarating, absorbing listening.

Monday, September 6, 2010

John Lee Hooker, Jr. Live in Istanbul

John Lee Hooker, Jr. excels in the soul-blues style. Horns, electricity, hot charts, riveting vocalisms. Live in Istanbul (Steppin' Stone 92009) gives you a lively capture of the stage show plus a bonus DVD of a cut from an earlier album with animated narrative.

Although John does a few of his father's signature tunes, like "Maude" and "Boom Boom," it's the legacy of artists like Bobbie Blue Bland and Little Milton (and maybe even Johnny Guitar Watson) that this music comes out of. And so what's wrong with that?

He's got the spirit. It's good to hear. Here's an excellent introduction to Mr. Hooker, Jr. and his brand of excitement.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jeff Beck, in Case You Missed This One

Jeff Beck revolutionized the sound of the electric guitar when he came up with the Yardbirds. Stepping in Clapton’s shoes was not easy, and although the latter built a legend around himself, it was Beck that got his mature sound on the record grooves first and gave guitarists a model that in turn led to Cream, Hendrix and metal.

He has had a long career and I won’t rehearse those facts on this page. A while back a CD-DVD hit the public that showed him still at the very top of his abilities. Performing This Week, Live at Ronnie Scott's (Eagle) has had tons of words spilled on it so I won’t go into long details. It’s a beautiful example of how an artist can keep developing out of his initial style. Jeff combines slide, fingering, amplification and choked notes to evoke a tonal landscape that envelops the listener. He still has that sound; maybe even more so now. With a sympathetic group of sidemen Beck puts in a performance worthy of his reputation. “A Day in the Life” done by anybody else might fall flat. Beck pulls off his version with absolute flair. Is it jazz? Don’t think so, don’t care. Beck is a master of the pulled note, the screaming tone, the variety of percussive attacks. It’s great to hear him at a peak. By all means seek this one out if you have aspirations to electric profundity. . . or if you just want to listen to a really nice set of music by a guy who deserves all the accolades he can get.

Originally posted on March 17, 2009 at

Justice: Cr*p Has A New Name

Now I suppose I’m like the next fellow in many ways. Part of my life involves the exposure, in many cases the endurance, of whatever pop culture is putting in my way via the various media involved. It’s important to allow that to happen (to get a finger on the lifepulse of today's ethos), but not always pleasurable. I tune in to the so-called “music” channels of my TV cable service for brief periods to be ensorcelled by the next new craze. I often do it with the sound off, because much of the pop stuff has very little to do with the sounds being made but rather everything to do with the super-slick visual blitz. Bands playing “live” have a certain look now that owes much to how Hitler’s PR guys staged their famous demonstrations. Striking vastness, huge crowds demonstrating their total commitment to whatever the hell, and the focus, the “act,” the “product” given huge monumentality by camera angles and the way the “stage” is constructed. The media people seem to become better and better at this. To me it’s all a little frightening.

So it gets to the point that the creation of superstardom is an autonomous mechanism in which the stars become interchangeable, almost irrelevant to the process of enshrinement. Step in a couple of French dance mixers, known as Justice. I have a copy of what is meant to commemorate their first major US Tour, A Cross the Universe (sic) (Ed Banger Records). OK, so it’s a CD of their San Francisco show, plus a DVD documenting the tour. Now dance music and I are not on the best terms. Most of it I hate. So take what I say as a part of that.

The DVD is the most interesting segment to me. It’s a sort of deadpan documentary. These two guys don’t lip synch, they synch completely. There is no performance beyond its simulation on CDs that are "mixed" and pumped out to the audience. It’s the two of them with CD players (DJ Style) at the center of an amazingly glitzy set up. There’s a white illuminated cross on stage. (This is somehow Christian stuff, in this case one must add “whatever that means.”) The two guys prance around and act like stars. The audience carries them prone through the crowd. The two guys shout and wave their hands over their heads back and forth. The crowd does too. The crowd jumps up and down. Some of the young women in the audience show their breasts. Gee. Parr-taay!!! The problem is, these guys are just a couple of schmoes that mix. What they mix is a bunch of turdy stuff that hits a low point on the scale of 1-10 in musicality. It's button pushing of the worst sort. No matter, the audience is in the presence of STARS and they act accordingly.

OK, and then there are the moments off stage. The mixers grow increasingly more inebriated as the tour progresses. Their manager (?), if that’s what he is, is a gun freak and tries to get them all into toting rods. Ultimately one of the two guys gets into a fight in the parking lot with a very drunk “fan” and bashes him over the head with a beer bottle. Cops come, Justice gets carted off, along with the manager. Symbolic? No, not at all. Meanwhile the bus driver seems like the only together guy in all of this. His skills as a driver are needed intact, so he is the most precient, conscious, rational. Necessarily, if they are not to crash and if they are to make it to the appropriate venue in the next city. This is all a God-awful reminder of how bad the pop world can get. The emperor has no clothes. Music does not really exist anymore in this pocket of life. They may get Grammys, and all kinds of awards. It’s crap though. I’m sorry for those who like it.

Originally posted at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chris Colangelo Fields A Powerful Bass and Driving Ensemble

Chris Colangelo plays some ear-gabbling solos on the contrabass. He also writes some very interesting and musically advanced music in the modern jazz bag. He is an ensemble man too and he has an ensemble, man. His second CD is Elaine's Song (C Note 001) and it has everything good happening in it.

Joining Colengelo for this record is a set of musicians that fully attune to Chris' music. There's John Beasley on piano doing beautiful interpretations of Colangelo's music and soloing in the post-Evans mode but with absolute assurance and real artistic flair. Steve Hass does everything a drummer should do--beautiful time that drives and loosens, solo moments that add to the excitement....The three-sax lineup of Bob Sheppard, Benn Clatworthy and Zane Musa gives the ear solid modern soloing and sympathetic readings of Colangelo's music.

The original pieces are very contrasting and strong. It is the sort of music that Hancock and Shorter wrote for Miles and Blue Note in the mid-sixties. And yes, perhaps it approaches those heights now and then. Colangelo also throws in an early Trane classic and a Steve Swallow song that reminds us of the great pieces that grand master of the bass has written.

The music spins you around in your chair. It is excellent in every respect. Colangelos playing, his writing, and his band are shown to great advantage on Elaine's Song. And so it is highly recommended. I only hope he can get this band rolling on a long-term basis and continue to perform and record with it. Because it is a group to watch. Absolutely.