Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pitom: Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes

Pitom does Jewish Rock. Their second for Tzadik, Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes is all about the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). It's somber but blazing--in a kind of Masada-Mahavishnu electric intensity mode. They call it "punkassjewjazz." And that captures some of the essence of what they are doing. There IS a kind of insouciancy to it that you could dub punkish. And in that way they are a bellwether of part of the Tzadik ethos--reverently irreverent.

The band is a tight fury of Yoshie Fruchter on skronky fusionoid electric guitar, Jeremy Brown on violin and viola, an excellent addition for his Semitic and otherwise distinctively folkish tone and the sound of his strings blending with guitar on the two-part melody lines. Then there's Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on hard-nosed bass, and Kevin Zubek doing an expanded rocking thing on the drums.

What appeals to me in this music is the edgyness combined with the Jewish minor mode, the fusion arrangements and the moments of sheer guitar madness (the good kind). Thanks to John Zorn's example and moral support there has been a significant emergence of avant Jewish rock that is both encouraging and exhilarating. Pitom is at the forefront of that and Blasphemy is a terrific example of why that matters.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Jane Stuart, Vocalist, and "Don't Look Back"

Jane Stuart sounds a little bit like Lena Horn in her delivery. Not in some doppelganger sense. She has a poised vocal demeanor and the sort of alternate phrasings to songs and a smidgen of scat that puts her in the jazz category. Her backing band does the jazz thing too, with a little obligatto, especially from tenorman Frank Elmo. And there's the swinging countenance throughout. I should say that we are talking about her album Don't Look Back (Jane Stuart Music 002).

Song choice is interesting: standards like "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," and "Summertine" (which here in the northern hemisphere seems to be with us BTW, for those who keep indoors in climate controlled, boxy rooms). There are some interesting Jane Stuart originals. And then there are the modern standards like "Eleanor Rigby," "I'll Follow the Sun" and Stevie Wonder's "Bird of Beauty" as well as slightly more obscure things like David Frishberg's ironic, world-weary "Wheelers and Dealers." So it is a good mix.

Those are the basics. I should mention that guitarist Dave Striker does some appropriate accompaniment here and there. Rave Tesar plays some good post-Tyner style piano too.

It's a nice record from a singer that has style. It's a traditional sort of style. You like that, you'll like this. And so sit back and dig the tunes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power Live, September 2010

The Stooges were unvarnished and a little bit dangerous sounding to the majority of rock listeners when they hit the stage in the late-sixties, early-seventies. It's a well-known, well-told story of a band that was one of the first to return to the garage in a consistently excellent way. Like the Velvets, they ignored the increasing sophistication that was generally taking over. Unlike the Velvets, though, they took a little longer to reach cult status.

Cut to September of last year, when the reunited Stooges, complete with a very energized Iggy, played the All Tommorrow's Parties Festival in front of rolling "tapes".

What happened that day is well captured on an LP release, Raw Power Live: In the Hands of the Fans (MVD Entertainment). It's a blazingly overbearing (in a good way) performance of what was probably their seminal album (Raw Power, duh).

There's no point in discussing the niceties of this album--because with the Stooges as they should be, there ARE no niceties. It's rude, man, as it should be. And it's most definitely the band totally ON it. No need to say more.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fay Victor and Other Dimensions in Music, "Kaiso Stories"

First things first. Kaiso was the precursor to modern Calypso. It came about when African-derived musical-narrative traditions were transposed and transformed on Spanish colonial soil. There was a political component often contained in the song narratives.

With this tradition in mind singer-narrator Fay Victor along with the collective improvisational ensemble "Other Dimensions in Music" has created the most interesting Kaiso Stories (Silkheart 158). She visited her grandmother in Trinidad regularly from kindergarten through her teen years. In remembrance of those experiences and her ancestral roots Ms. Victor narrates, sings, and otherwise deconstructs classic Calypso lyrics overtop a considerably sympathetic avant improvisational backdrop, as played by a formidable group of New-York-City-based artists: Roy Campbell, trumpet, etc., Daniel Carter, saxes, etc., William Parker, acoustic bass, etc., and Charles Downs, drums and percussion.

As I dug this recording I found there were three sorts of levels on which you could appreciate the performances, pretty much simultaneously. The first of course was Ms. Victor's poetic-free way with the lyrics, snatches of melodic phrases (or whole strains, in some cases) based on the Calypso melodies, and her more directly improvisational declamatory free vocalizing-narrating. The second level of appreciation centered for me around the interaction of vocals and ensemble. There are instrumental references to African and Trinidadian melodic and rhythmic phrases as well as free collective soloing of a wider sort. Then the third level is all about when the instrumentalists proceed with their improvisational performances in those sections where Fay lays out.

So we have a kind of three-tiered experience when listening to this one--and each one is valuable in itself.

On a strictly musical level everything comes together. William Parker's bass has an important function of articulating a rooted Africanism, perhaps more so than the others. It's yet another example of Parker's importance on the scene. It is a great pleasure to listen to his interaction with the free-Afro-Calypsian drumming of Charles Downs, who plays an important part in all this as well. Roy Campbell and Daniel Carter sound well and mesh together in a horn web that interlocks behind Ms. Victor when she is in the mix and tends to break out a bit more when she is not.

In the end you have a personal portrait of a person's connection to an ancestral home and all its experiential and political ramifications, and the need to be specific about what that means to her. This is one of the albums that takes a few listens to get used to. If you open your mind you'll find that there is nothing else quite like it. Those who like and follow the NY avant jazz scene will feel intrigued and connected to this. Those who aren't will nonetheless find it absorbing listening, if they remain open as they listen. A fine effort and a very singular one at that!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pyeng Threadgill's "Portholes to A Love" Shows Artistic Depth

If I have not reviewed vocalist-songsmith Pyeng Threadgill's Portholes to A Love, Other Short Stories (self released, no cat #) until now, it was mainly a logistics situation. I did not have a copy until now. And I am glad I finally do!

I am glad because this, her third solo effort shows her artistry in its most developed state. Her voice is like no other and it is a most compelling instrument. Her songs are in the art realm. This is not pop, r&b, rock or what-have-you. It is art song with the serious demeanor and substance of jazz, with afro-funk-progressive musical clothing. Like a small number of her better-known elders, she takes the music in the air around her and transforms it into her own music. This is music that emerges from an internal conviction that this is what sounds right for her right now, and she bends the conventions of idiom to create a highly personal statement that goes beyond its roots, rather far beyond.

The lyrics tell of a personal journey through life experiences, a journey of growth in a time we all know has been a discouraging one on some levels and encouraging on others.

All this becomes grist to Pyeng Threadgill's mill.

I would hardly say this about some vocalists out there, but with Pyeng it is clear that she doesn't just sing. She has a total musical vision that is fully formed and comes across in her musically rich songwriting and arranging.

Pyeng is one original in a world where cloning is the norm. She is so original that it is not all that easy to describe that complex of "somethings" that make it so.

So I'll just say this: Portholes To A Love must not be missed by anyone who values original music. Categories mean little when the music goes beyond them. Ms. Threadgill does that, in ways that show she is an important voice, a masterful weaver of tale and tone, an artist for our todays and tomorrows.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Atsuko Hashimoto's Organ Trio: "Until the Sun Comes Up"

Atsuko Hashimoto has five albums out already. Now for the sixth. Take world class swinging drummer Jeff Hamilton, add the new talent of guitarist Graham Dechter, then put that together with the old time-new time funk (in the old sense)-swing of Atsuko, gather up some standards that would lend themselves to the organ trio setting, and let it all loose. Until the Sun Comes Up (Capri 74107-2) documents the results, and they are good.

Ms. Hashimoto has the bluesy swing of Jimmie Smith, the block largeness and sometimes organ sound of Milt Buckner, and some of the bop-line chops of a Charles Earland. Graham Dechter has the light, rhythmic, hip comping style that goes well in the organ trio. His solo lines are the right stuff--Benson and Martino are in there somewhere but he has his game down so you tap your foot and dig the groove. Jeff Hamilton makes that groove sizzle with joy, of course.

Atsuko does most of the arrangements, with a few by Graham, and they are the attractive large-swing-sound with small-numbers-of-players sorts of things that organ trios can do so well.

At this point in her career Ms. Hashimoto may not be a major stylist, but she puts the style forward with dash and panache. It's solid toe-wiggling sounds throughout and some tasty licks to boot. Dig in. Dig it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Carlo de Lorenzi and His Jazz-Rock Opus "Four Seasons in One Recess"

Something can have commercial appeal and still have musical interest. I know that's hardly a shocking thought, but personally I have found myself in musical periods (and this is one of them) when the commercial music-mill increasingly pre-selects what it pushes on factors other than musical merit. I don't mean to sound elite or arrogant about this, but there has been a high percentage of drivel, gruel and pablum coming out of the mill in the last ten years on a whole.

So when something has a bit of a "radio-friendly" cast to it, I sometimes need to force myself to listen and see if there's is more than just "product" at play. In the case of Carlo de Lorenzi's Four Seasons in One Recess (self-released, no cat #) I found my efforts rewarded. Carlo plays piano and keys, writes songs and puts together some nice music tracks.

About half are "real songs" with guest vocalists, the other half are jazz-rock things of an instrumental sort, with room for de Lorenzi's key soloing, which (the soloing, that is) has a melodic flair and a hint of early Jarrettian gospel funk. The supporting cast of musicians vary but generally contribute in the realm of the overall sound more than they wipe one out with devastating solo work. (Jason Sadites's guitar solo on "Change of Pace" is nicely put together in a rock-jazz zone though.) Some of it could be used as music you hear when you are on hold with some company for an hour; others are too good for that treatment.

I found that the melodic qualities of several songs and some of the instrumental writing are on a superior level though. "Ode to Raven" and "Edge of the Rainstorm," with the lead vocals of Steffany Venneri and Jessie Lefebvre, respectively, are especially memorable, nature-centered and hopeful. They are songs to remember and the vocalists have personality.

If other things sound like they might be backing tracks to some unreleased Steely Dan album, I cannot say that they are in any way especially puerile or vapid. If he did a pop-jazz-rock album with more of those songs, and one or two singers in more consistently featured roles, he might get the attention of even more people. I say that only because it is rare to pull off that sort of thing, to come up with songs that could be both popular and substantial. And he does that a couple of times on this album.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Robert Wyatt, Songsmith of Brilliance, and the Orchestre National de Jazz: "Around Robert Wyatt"

There are artists who are so distinctive, so brilliant, they break through categories and leave you fumbling around for a handle to give readers so they can go away thinking, "oh, it's that." With Robert Wyatt is never just "that." It's that and lots of other things. In the end, it's Robert Wyatt, somebody who, after an adult lifetime of listening to his music, you can best put into focus by saying, "you know, it's what Robert Wyatt does so well."

Since that won't do, something more must be said. So I'll try and say it. So. Start at the beginning. He was the Soft Machine's drummer and vocalist for their first three albums. Those are arguably their most characteristic efforts as a band, though they (the band) of course went on to do somewhat different and wonderful things. Certainly what made those first forays into the music world so interesting was the presence of Robert Wyatt, for starters. Robert the vocalist was and is a unique entity. I wont try to describe that. And his songs began to emerge too on those first few albums. "The Moon in June," from Soft Machine Three was a landmark of through-composed long-song form for "jazz-rock" as it was then known. I won't try to capture the essence here.

Things went their way and Robert left the band, was in an accident that made drumming more-or-less an impossible thing. But Robert continued to develop his vocal-conceptual-song-oriented approach and influenced generations of artists in the way he did all that.

So we come to today's disk, a CD with a second, shorter bonus disk, all devoted to the songs of Robert Wyatt. Around Robert Wyatt (Bee 030) is that. It's a moving around all sides of his complex musical personality to construct a three-dimensional image of his music. Robert is one of the vocalists and the Orchestre National de Jazz (artistic director Daniel Yvinec) takes some very fine arrangements by Vincent Artaud and makes a memorable mini-retrospective of some really wonderful Robert Wyatt songs. The arrangements are non-fomulaic. It's almost of the caliber of what Gil Evan's did for Porgy and Bess. Maybe it IS that, plain and simple. There's a jazz element but this is not big-band Wyatt, it is more what the organization's title implies: orchestral jazz.

Robert Wyatt writes songs where the lyrics and melodic elements are equally unusual. There's a melancholy that pervades some of it, there's a focused drifting quality there too, and there is a long-song form that he so has mastered. These are art songs, songs that you can hear 50 times without plummeting the depth and breadth of them.

Around Robert Wyatt has everything going for it: the beautifully wrought songs, great arrangements played with care and inspiration, and the vocals, not the least the ones by Robert himself. This is far more than one of those tribute sort of deals that are around. It is beautifully made music that stands alone as an important Robert Wyatt album, OK?

I remember one of the reasons I went out and bought Soft Machine's Three (which started it all for me) in 1970 was because Rolling Stone called them "the thinking man's rock band." Well, they were right about that. Robert Wyatt has become the thinking person's songmaster. He's gone on and done other things...things one should not miss. Around Robert Wyatt gives you a brilliant overview of a brilliant music-maker.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bassist Chris Bernhardt's BMR4 Get Good Things Going on "Fixing A Hole"

The mainstream in jazz today is so vast as to almost have no meaning as a label. There's the radio mainstream of endless standards done inoffensively, there's the mainstream of styles from the past in various stages of revival and/or continuation, there are electric styles that have a certain new-tradition stance, and on from there.

So if I call the BMR4 and their EP Fixing A Hole (Buzz Music no cat #) mainstream, I need to be more specific about what it is I mean. The group is a nicely swinging outfit with a very nice gathering of improvisers doing some very nice things with material that in no way mirrors the usual run-of-the-mill choices.

BMR4 is Chris Bernhardt on acoustic bass, Jay Moynihan on tenor, Mike Rodbard, drums, Neal Alger, guitar, and Taku Akiyama guesting on alto for two of the four tracks. There are some excellent players. Rodbard swings along with that solid groove-making feel and Chris B does his thing very well indeed as both a soloist and a rhythm-team member. Moynihan's tenor mainstreams without copying a particular style, which is saying much these days, and Neal Alger is the complete guitarist, doing some great comping and showing how his soloing (especially on "You've Changed") manages to integrate the bop-and-after traditions into a projection of a personal musical sound and feel.

And the pieces chosen have a very good flow to them. Herbie Hancock's "The Maze" is given loving treatment, the Beatles' "Fixing A Hole" has total credibility in its swinging garb, "You've Changed" shows that Moynihan and Algers can breathe fresh solo magic into a very well-covered song. Gil Evan's "Barricuda" is an unusual choice, in that it is not oftened covered. And they cover it with swinging fire.

For the arrangements, the swinging feel and Neal Alger's guitar work, and for the overall freshness-in-tradition that BMG4 pulls of nicely, this one is a most pleasant surprise. It's something hard not to like. So check it out if you can.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Muntu Valdo, African Singer-Guitarist, and His Debut, "The One and the Many"

Born and raised in Cameroon, West Africa and residing in London since 2008, singer, guitarist, multi-instrumentalist (bass guitar, percussion, harmonica), Muntu Valdo seems poised for the sort of wider international recognition denied to all but the select few African artists who can appeal to the World Music mainstream. He does for highlife-afrobeat or even traditional singer-instrumentalist music of rural Africa what bossa nova did for samba, what Kebmo did for the blues. He lightens it up, makes it contemporary and a little, dare I say, smoother than the roots music. That is not to say that Valdo is diluting African music or is giving us a smooth jazz version, because that is not what he is doing. All the percussive aspects of the best African music are there, but they come out with a more gentle lilt--again like bossa was for samba. Similarly there are melodic and harmonic sophistications in his vocals and guitar playing that recall how bossa went about things. And too Muntu is more in the realm of contemporary song-folk acoustic style than he is into a heavily electric dance bag. In other words, this is not Afro-funk in some very heavy sense, for the most part.

This is all in reference to his music on the new CD The One and the Many (Warner Jazz 2564674513). It's a many faceted Muntu Valdo we hear on this disk, Muntu the acoustic guitarist and song stylist, Muntu the contemporary builder of harder-edged call and response riff Africanism, even an African equivalent of music with the old R&B shuffle beat.

It's solid instrumentally with some nice guitar work (mostly in the acoustic-electric nylon-stringed realm); it's vocally well developed and hip; and it shows the songwriting/groove producing side well too. Muntu does all parts via overdubbing for a result that is rather impressive. And also rather expressive.

It's the sort of music those who dig African music will dig, but it also has the potential to attract those for whom the world music genre appeals but don't have alot of exposure to musical things African. Muntu Valdo is an artiste. That is something virtually anybody can appreciate. He makes music well worth hearing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guitarist Mark O'Leary Blazes in A Trio Setting on New Ayler CD "Stoj"

This is post number 601 here. I look back and think of how this blog grew out of the first one at gapplegate.com, how all the blogs grew out of my work at Cadence, and think of the enormous amount of work it takes to keep the two daily work-week postings informed, smart and I hope insightful, and I cannot say "it has been fun." Rewarding, enlightening, challenging and satisfying, yes. Fun, no. But it was not meant to be that for me. And so we continue to move along.

Today we have a CD appropriate to the milestone, a kick-tail guitar trio set with the remarkable Mark O'Leary improvising his way into the stratosphere. Stoj (Ayler 072) would get my vote for the Gapplegate Inner Circle of Mother Guitarist CDs Award, which doesn't exist really, but it wins anyway along with a few others so far this year.

I've reviewed some excellent examples of his work on these pages (search his name on the search box and you'll find them), but this one is in the most definite directional mode. Not that the others weren't but he flourishes especially finely with the trio he has fielded. It's Peter Friis-Nielsen on bass, Stefan Pasborg, drums. They do a marvelously convincing job aiding, abetting, and spurring O'Leary on, adding two separate yet related improvisational voices to Mark's.

This is rock-laced free improv of a definite "jazz" inflection. They basically let it rip over the course of the CD's 56 minutes in nine interrelated sections. It's flat-out hitting it with a few moments of relative quescence. Maestro O'Leary's considerable prowess is harnessed to scaling expressive heights much of the time in rapid, freely articulated phrasings that flow in and out of time along with the trio. This is a lining bag more than a noise-sound excursion for the most part. O'Leary weaves some exceptionally complex, burning, quicksilver-laced lines, though. Some of the very best coming out of a new cat on the block.

It's an elated performance of hard-charging freedom that sends out some very hip smoke-signals, Jack! He's most definitely among the handful of most promising young improvisational guitarists working today. I mean that. Listen to this one! Click the Ayler link on this site and you'll get more info.

And thank YOU, all who have read and supported this blog for the first 601 posts. Now on to the next 601!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Danny Frankel Puts Together A Different Kind of Organ Trio (with Nels Cline and Larry Goldings): "The Interplanetary"

When drummer Danny Frankel teams up with guitarist Nels Cline and organist Larry Goldings, you expect something interesting. In fact The Interplanetary Note/Beat Conference (Self-Released, no catalog #) is that. It is also unexpected. For it is an album of avant space age retro-futuristic secret-agent-in-orbit music. That's the sort of thing that only really works when done well. It is.

All three collaborate on charts that are more than tongue-in-cheek. They explore the domain they set before themselves in ways that allow for some improvisatory interjections that are musically singular and songs/arrangements that build upon the premises in ways that make for music that is not only about music of an earlier era. It is music that is about itself as well.

Nels Clines' guitar, whether electric, acoustic or one of those electric sitar guitars, is smart, creative and a wide stride ahead of a merely ironic stance. The same can be said about Goldings' organ work and Mr. Frankel himself at the drums and bongos.

It is music that is a hoot, yet it is substantial, like some things that John Zorn has done or even some of Sun Ra's Afro-space fox trots from his peak years.

It is organ trio music that is music first and organ trio music second. Music first and retro visitation second.

It's quite good. And quite fun too!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Guitarist Frank Butrey's Hard Driving "Malicious Delicious"

As I've said before, one nice thing about doing these blogs is that you get sent things that come out of left field, things you would never have known about otherwise. Philadelphia-based guitarist Frank Butrey's Malicious Delicious (Lust for Toys 01979 FRK) is that sort of surprise for me.

This is a scorching set of mostly electric, hard fused rock. He's playing with some crack cats and he is playing some very aggressively hip fusion. Nothing polite. He has chops but he's using them to express, not impress.

There is the kind of joy of playing going on that you found more in the early fuzed music sets than you are apt to find today--I mean the glad-to-be-here energy of early McLaughlin, Rypdal, Tony William's Lifetime, Santana in the astral zone, those early "this is new and we're psyched to do it" days.

The pieces have varying compositional feels. What's invariable is the quality of the guitar playing.

You dig guitarists cranking fuzed heat and cosmic cool, you should definitely NOT miss this one.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Scott Fields, Electric Guitar, Matthias Schubert, Tenor Sax, in Some Worthy Avant Duets: "Minaret Minuets"

I am not overly familiar with either Scott Fields, electric guitarist, or Matthias Schubert, tenorist, but after hearing their duet offering Minaret Minuets (Clean Feed 213) a number of times, I must say that they've made an impression on me that wont be easily eradicated. A good impression, I mean.

Scott contributes the compositions, all save one, which is by Matthias. In those charts/routines I hear the constructive influence of Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell, especially in the darting about asymmetrically through register skips and jumps, and the repetition of tone and sound color phrases--as both a compositional tact and a means to gradually launch into related improvisational work. There isn't just some sort of imitation; these elements are creatively integrated into the Fields-Schubert duet dynamic. And they are made to springboard the artists into solid avant improvisatory territory where their own personal identities come to the fore. Plus there are other compositional elements that move the music in other directions as well. The point is that the compositional frameworks are strong, memorable, and a great way to structure the freedom of the improvisations.

Both Fields and Schubert have developed sound and style inventiveness on their instruments to a fine point. These are originals, both. Fields, perhaps in part because there are relatively few avant electricians in the guitar realm who successfully develop and sustain indentities of their own, has the greater impact on my ears. He plays irregular and unusual phrases with great fluidity, can vary the articulation of attack in many subtle ways, and his melodic-harmonic sensibility is woven into a whole, unified cloth. Schubert shares with Fields a tumble-and-turn rhythmic feel that serves both well. He is adept at coming up with pivotal figures that set things up for a Fields improvisation (and vice versa) and he maintains throughout a sure-footed robust or whispering tenor attack and an extremely fertile variational imagination.

The two together are remarkable in many ways, but especially for me in the way they flow ideas together without strict tempo or even without any tempo whatsoever. Their duets move along in ways that make sense and bring listener appreciation to a high level.

These are without a doubt some of the most interesting and successful sax-guitar avant improvisations I have had the pleasure to hear. I hope the two do more and continue to work together in duet and with other sympatico players. Definitely recommended!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marika Hughes Spins Her Personal Songwriting Cloak on "The Simplest Thing"

Marika Hughes plays the cello, so well that she also has a solo cello release (which we'll be covering on the Gapplegate Music Review). She also writes and sings songs that have a very personal stamp. The Simplest Thing (DD Records 002) gives you 11 tracks that showcase her art.

She is joined by various acoustic and a few electric instrumentalists. There are country and blues influences. Her voice is in a deeper, almost contralto range and her songs have an indie rock flavor.

I found that she has captured a view, a set of feelings with lyrics-melodies that bring them out well. Her music has an art song substantiality at times, though perhaps not fully realized as yet. Other times there is a kind of pedestrian immediacy that does not go at it in a way that might come off as insincere. She is direct and she is what she is.

I'm glad I listened and look forward to new releases and further growth as time passes.

It is a different sort of disk from an artist with much potential.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Dead Kenny G's!? Operation Long Leash Implements with Musical Success.

When some things combine with other things, and you start to realize that those combined things have a certain solidity, a certain distinctiveness, a thing-ness beyond the things, then you have a new thing.

Students of the music who trace a lineage from Zappa and Beefheart, Hendrix at his most advanced, electric Miles, Mwandishi, Soft Machine, King Crimson/Fripp & Eno, the Lounge Lizards, Zorn and Lucas, through to the very moment we live in, may come to realize that categories like fusion or jazz-rock don't really have much meaning for such a line of musical development. Why? Because these artist did/do not simply combine A with B, "jazz" as it was thought of at some point in time with "rock" at that point in time. Or blues or whatever else. That was because in the act of musical emergence for all these artists there was no simple combinatory ethos. Yeah, sure, you can point out elements that have been integrated into the musical whole, but, in every case, the whole was/is something rather wholly other.

Now that is some pretty heavy company to follow, but I'd like to suggest that the Dead Kenny G's in their own way are artists formed out of whole cloth like those aforementioned other heavy cats. At least on their new album Operation Long Leash (Royal Potato Family). I wouldn't want to suggest that this band has attained the stature of those cats, at least not yet, but the Dead Kenny G's do something quite a bit more than combine a couple of things. They have attained a certain identity beyond genre conflation.

Who are they? Saxophonist Skerik, bassist Brad Houser and drummer/percussionist/vibraphonist Mike Dillon. They work hard at a kind of ensemble madness where, yes, there is a punk element, an in-your-face go-to-hell quality. But it's much more complicated than that. There's a bit of improvising and Skerik in particular has a certain way. But it's not about improvisation so much as ensemble-compositional sequencing. And that's where they stand out.

They get a sound. They aren't afraid to try things. Those things pretty much work. It's all very interesting, sometimes very electric and also very acoustic (it's a touch on the "hard" side either way) but not at all predictable. It's something to check out, without a doubt. File it under "?". That is, after you've listened and dug it a bunch of times. Recommended!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Two Guitars are "Bending Time" On Duo EP

Two Guitars, acoustic, and two fellows playing them with some occasional percussion backing. They also sing on some of the numbers. All this for the EP Bending Time (Two Guitars). Brian Conigliaro and Gus Wieland are the guys playing. They have a tasteful approach. They pick, strum and play some thumb single-note melody-solos too.

There's one original; the rest are covers. And what hit me about those are the very nicely turned arrangments of what are some familiar songs: "Black Magic Woman," "Only Living Boy in New York," Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed," the Zombies "She's Not There," and last but hardly least a nifty version of the Left Banke-Mike Brown "Walk Away Renee."

This is not going to win a Grammy (and what that means is precisely nothing much) but it is a most pleasant way to spend twenty-five minutes. It isn't jazz so much as a kind of jamming rock-acoustic thing. But hey, I found it a refreshing change to my usual.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Stockholm Syndrome's Sophomore Effort "Apollo" Zeros in on the Rock Song

Stockholm Syndrome as a term refers to the love and admiration for captors that sometimes develops in hostages held over time. But it is also the name of a band formed by Widespread Panic's bassist Dave Pools and singer-songwriter Jerry Joseph.

Their second effort, Apollo (Response 4973), has been out a few months, and I have been listening to it. Joseph sounds and writes songs that have a slight resemblance to early Elvis Costello, to my ears anyway. The band is very capable. Guitarist Eric McPhadden lets loose with some nicely fired solos here and there which sound and note with a solid blues-rock thrust.

This is a band that stands or falls on its songs. It stands. The band fleshes out the songs in a way worth paying attention to as well. They make a point to give it all some weight. This does not sound like pop. It is not. I wish them all success.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Rhys Chatham's "Outdoor Spell": Soundscapes for Trumpet, Guitar, Percussion, Drums

Rhys Chatham may be known to you as a punk artist or guitarist. For his debut Northern Spy release Outdoor Spell (004) you can forget all that for a moment. He's playing the trumpet on this one, and not just one. The CD (or LP or MP3 download) concentrates on a series of four soundscapes for multi-tracked trumpet. The third piece adds cajon percussion; the fourth electric guitar and drums. These are rolling, continuous sound-musical-scapes that present themselves as universes of trumpets, droning, forming chordal tones, playing Lamont Young-like endlessly embellished figures and using unconventional techniques to make percussive noises.

It's post-minimal or maybe just minimal, though at this point the relationship to a Carl Andre sculpture installation seems forced and not even relevant. Because if Carl Andre made physical forms that sounded like Rhys Chatham's work here, it would not have that smooth, ordered regularity. It would be more of a blooming, buzzing artistic chaos. That's not to cast dispersion on Andre or Chatham, just to wonder out loud if this really is minimalism. I suppose it is not. No matter.

The music sometimes sounds like a modern analog to some Sub-Saharan African tribal evening, hundreds of women ululating repeatedly, drums beating a foundational pulse, men singing something somehow related but unrelated-contrasted to the other elements. You may read that sentence and think, WTF? The point is that there is a rich layering, a continuous sound, an aural soundcloud.

The last piece, for guitar, drums and trumpet, has more of a freely conversational feel, more in the way of semi-legato pointilism if you will. (And if you wont, then just think that the phrases of tone or sound interlock and are shorter.)

In the end you feel like something good has happened by the time you get to the end of the program. (That is, if you listen more than once. The first time through I wasn't sure what I was hearing, tell the truth.)

And something has. If you like the nether expanses of outer space in your music, Rhys gives you his version of it here. It is something unto itself--and so not unto somebody else. Begat (or rather beget) yourself a copy and you'll see what I mean. I approve! You probably will too...

And welcome Northern Spy Records to the world. It shows much promise as a label!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Ethics and The Review Process: Have I Been Taken Off the Promo List of A Label for A Negative Review?

OK I am not mentioning names here. But I have the distinct impression that a major label has bounced me from their promo list because of one negative review I posted months ago. It was ultimately positive about the group, just negative about the particular release.

If the blog and journalism world is not going the be the corrupted handmaiden shill of the music industry, the intellectual and factual independence of reviewers must be guaranteed. When I decide to review music it is often for more than one reason. I may like the music, I may like the artists, I may find that the music illustrates something about the current scene or the history of music. One thing that is not a fait accompli, is that everything be positive. It is not my function here to promote music as a promoter. If something is promoted as a result of positive words, it is incidental to what I do, which is talk about the music itself.

I generally cover things I do appreciate on one or more levels of course. But I will not become the publicity arm of a company on these pages. If I have been taken off the promo list of a particular (major) label, then I wonder about the ethics of that label. "Do good reviews only. Don't do good reviews and you will be silenced." This is not good. Of course if I am mistaken, then I will get some new releases in some fashion, and I'll continue to cover the label with the same, I hope, objectivity. Thank you.

Gettin' Kinda Rough with Grana Louise

You get the feeling listening to blues-soulstress Grana Louise that she knows how to handle herself in just about any situation she might come across. She is one tough woman. Her CD Gettin' Kinda Rough (Delmark 812) comes through like a freight train that's taking on no passengers at the station and, whew, man, she's here and gone!

We are talking about old-school blues-soul with the raw electric power and the in-your-face sassy! Grana sings like a downed power line, crackling, bristling with natural energy and exposed kinetic danger.

She has cannon-shot power and marksmanship precision in her delivery. She's got that explosive blues voice that does most emphatically NOT hold back. She delivers, baby! Raunchy, brimming with blues power. Hey, she is the real deal.

Half the CD is recorded in the studio, the other half in a club where she takes control and OWNS the crowd in the best Chicago blues tradition.

Beware if you are the sort that blushes at subject matter that is NOT POLITE. When she sings that she's going to "Big Dick, Mississippi, where the trees grow tall," there's no missing what she means. This is no refined drawing-room banter, you'd best believe. And when she sings about being a dutiful housefrau, staying home and "learning how to cheat on you," well you know she is not messing around with indirect talk.

This is a hell of an album. The band blows strong behind her and she blows everyone away.

This is old school blues at its very finest. Oh, yes, I mean that! Grana Louise tells it, she sings it, and you knows it. You have been SUNG to, Jackson!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Avant Guitar-Bass-Drums (McManus-Helias-Hemingway) on "Transcendental Numbers"

Someone who doesn't listen to avant improvisation of the sort presented on Transcendental Numbers (No Business NBCD 27) might be at a loss to evaluate it. It's a free-flowing series of improvisations from the electric guitar of Terrence McManus, the contrabass of Mark Helias and the drums of Gerry Hemingway. There are a few things that can help you evaluate and understand what you hear.

First, "free" doesn't mean you are entitled to download this gratis. Do that on a pirate site and you'll make this music impossible to produce on every level and it will disappear. Seriously. Second, keep in mind that "free" doesn't mean "play any old shoot," at least in the hands of the accomplished avant improvisers. It means that the players have spent their lives honing their musical abilities so that they bring all they know and can do into the musical session. It means that this trio is free to go in any direction that they see fit. So you get bluesy sounding passages, free commentary of rock-funk forms and earlier jazz without direct engagement or quotation of the licks. It means working within pitch centers (both near and far away from the elemental expression of them). Third, it means directing the musical results toward sound color creation--different ways of playing notes timbre-wise, noise elements, sounds as sound-music. Fourth, "free" music implies a state-of-mind on the part of the players and audience. The moment is the message in some ways. The moment and what the players can do within it. Sixth, a brewing up of tumultuous energy has long been a part of the free avant repertoire. They do that here at times in convincing, moving ways, with McManus sometimes at the same time making a nod to the psychedelic rockers of yesteryear.

Seventh, the players try to develop a feel, phrase, a rhythm or any number of other elements to unify the improvisations. (The alternative is to never repeat anything and that is in part related to the serial composers of the Post-Webern sort, and mind I am not saying that this is a cheap copycatting--it's just a shared trait. It's a akin to the idea that music usually utilizes or implies scales. It's pointless on a certain level to try and pinpoint exactly who first articulated, say, the harmonic minor scale and then go on and accuse everybody else of stealing it.) There is probably an eighth, a ninth, and an x-to-infinity number of points I could make here, but it is 7:24 AM in New Jersey and it's Tuesday, so I'll simply press on.

Judging by these criterea and the others I have not systematically articulated on this lovely seasonal morning, Transcendental Numbers hits the target, so to say. McManus can play well with outside electric sounds in what Barry Altschul used to call a "make a sound, make another sound" methodology. McManus can jump in and out of blues and rock tonalities in a meta-commentary sort of way. He can vary his attack so that some figures have staccato rhythmic emphasis (and set up possible counter-commentary in the trio), or he can go for a-rythmia, and/or for legato or alternate-sounding means of producing tones. He can play some clusters of tones, chord-like, articulated in all sorts of ways. And there is more there to his playing on this recording, too. The point is he remains engaging, interesting and freshly creative throughout. Mark Helias and Gerry Hemingway are well-known as adepts at this sort of improvisation. Suffice to say that they do all the things that we've alluded to above and they do them well.

The trio in fact is dedicated to that "doing it well in the moment," and they succeed fully. McManus is too pomo to stick to pure sound as the late Derek Bailey mostly did; and he is too restlessly creative to remain in the land of tone for long periods. He shows throughout that he is one of the more interestingly inventive out guitarists working today; and the trio comprises some of the very best avant improvisers.

So you should try and support this music by buying the CD. You want to know what frio-trio with guitar is all about, here's a good example. For those who know all that, McManus has his own vision which is apparently in the process of congealing nicely. It's an encouraging recording for the future McManus and quite interesting listening beyond all of that.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Alekos Galas, Bouzouki Contemporary, and His "Mediterranean Breeze"

The double-stranded string instrument known as the bouzouki, safe to say, has been a central part of the Greek musical texture for ages. Alekos Galas has taken the virtuoso technical requisites of bouzouki practice, mastered them and elevated his playing to the upper realms of possibility on the instrument.

On his CD Mediterranean Breeze (Ehos 0417) he shows convincingly what can be done when he applies his considerable abilities to a fusionoid-light smooth-funk context. This is pleasant music on the pop-side of the spectrum. He is joined for the date by a fairly large gathering of musicians including Alex Acuna on conga and percussion, and electric bassist Abe Laboriel.

Mediterranean Breeze stands or falls on Alekos Galas himself. Without his considerable presence this would be an innocouous and fairly ordinary gathering of peasantries. Galas makes it more than that. Much of what he plays is on the melodic, pre-planned tune-spinning side of things. His solo improvisations are brief. In that way this is closer to contemporary Greek music than "jazz" per se (though his few cadenza-like passages are pretty impressive).

Nonetheless Mr. Galas is a fine player. I'd love to hear him put a little more (or even a lot more) grit into his concept, but his music in the present form will no doubt find airplay on the smooth jazz radio outlets.