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 www.gapplegate.com/musicalblog.html

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 www.gapplegatemusicreview.blogspot.com 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.