Friday, August 31, 2012

Rockin' Johnny Band, Grim Reaper

Hey, Rockin' Johnny and his band get some great blues rocking going. His second (I think) CD, Grim Reaper (Delmark 820) fits my mood right now and does it in the right way. Rockin' Johnny has a vocal style that reminds a little of early Paul Butterfield, as does the general style happening with the band. Johnny is no Michael Bloomfield (and of course only Michael B could do Michael B), but he plays with soul and blues authenticity, whatever that is (you know when you hear it). The band is driving and tight.

And it works too because Rockin' Johnny reworks the blues message and comes up with new twists: "Shoe Leather and Tire Rubber" is about trying to find a gig, "Grim Reaper" pits Johnny with the angel of death, and there are other good songs about the tough times we are in. The blues get you out of the blues. . . and to paraphrase and mess with Ray Charles's maxim, nowadays "everybody has the blues!" So the time is right, for the blues, for Rockin' Johnny.

This one's got it. So get it and get out of it!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ligro, Dictionary 2

From Jakarta, Java, Indonesia, there's Ligro, a guitar-bass-drums fusion outfit that brings it on. Their first international release, Dictionary 2 (MoonJune 047), is at hand, and I for one am glad of it.

It's a fusion trio that has absorbed the Lifetime-McLaughlin-and-beyond legacy and made something of their own of it. This is music with bite. No small part of that is due to the playing of Agam Hamzah. He has facility, a great harmonic-fuse sense. He writes well too. And he can pace a solo with taste and drama, never at a loss for ideas. Adi Darmawan plays bass the way bass should be played in an ensemble like this--strongly foundational and rock solid, yet loose when called for and in no way cliched. Drummer Gusti Hendi has great chops, the independence to get the complex sounds that drive and goes his own way to boot, avoiding the repetitive formulaic approach and hitting it with full force.

It's a rather amazing debut. It's hard-hitting all the way but there's plenty of variety, even including an interpretation of Stravinsky's "An Easy Piece Using Five Notes."

It's a surefire winner for anyone who digs on advanced guitar wielding, the fused arts, and a hot trio going at it with music that rises above the repetition of accepted formulas to make something very much new out of it all. You are warned: things are happening musically in Indonesia today. This is an important piece of that and it should not be missed! Hurrah to MoonJune for bringing this to us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Operation ID, Legs

I covered Operation ID's recent EP a few days ago here. Today, a full album, Legs (Table and Chairs 003). What I said about the EP applies also to the full CD. They are a Seattle-based unit that gives out with a pleasingly potent mix of compositional progressive jazz-rock in a contemporary vein, following in part a trail originally blazed by Frank Zappa and early-mid Soft Machine.

It's a five-piece outfit of Ivan Arteaga on saxes, Jared Borkowski on electric guitar, Rob Hanlon, synths, David Balatero, electric bass, and Evan Woodle, drums. This music makes its mark especially in the ensemble arrangements and the overall ambiance. The solos suit the pieces at hand but are not the primary thrust of the music.

It's ground-breaking, path widening prog/post-prog instrumental music of a high order. And it's well worth checking out if that sounds interesting to you.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Prima Donna, Bless this Mess

Prima Donna has a kind of early Kinks-meets-Ramones rootsiness to their music, at least on their recent Bless this Mess (Acetate 7044). Then somehow a little John Lennon sneaks in there. Then not.

It's wall of power-chord guitars band liveliness with vocal harmonies and a slightly punkish lead vocalist. They do originals that make a serious attempt to be real songs, and pretty much succeed in that throughout.

It's pretty hard hitting power pop punk I guess. And it's pretty good.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Markus Reuter, Kopfmensch

Something new from the innovative Markus Reuter. Well, not entirely new. It's an anthology of Reuter's work that he put together before embarking on last year's "Two of a Perfect Trio" tour of the US (a Crimsonite gathering featuring the Adrian Belew Power Trio and Tony Levin's Stickmen, the latter of which included Reuter).

The album is called, humorously, Kopfmensch (Unsung). It's not exactly a greatest hits compilation. Some of it is unreleased. It shows you hefty, exhilarating glimpses of the post-Crimson Reuter, the compositional post-prog Reuter, and, something I am less familiar with, the art-song Reuter.

There are 16 cuts, much music. All kinds of notables appear (go to for a rundown of what and who). And the end result, after a suitable period for gestation, is remarkable. Landmark. A gem of avant rock and/or post-prog. It's what others may be trying to do, but don't always get quite right.

This is quite right.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Operation ID, Trapped

First, sorry for the long pause in posts here. I was feeling quite out of sorts. The good news is that I am (I hope) back for good.

Today a pretty remarkable post-prog composer-quality rock single by Operation ID: Trapped (Table and Chairs). It has a Zappaesque attention to part writing and avant elements interspersed with a highly evolved melodic rock approach.

It's a damned fine slab of music if you like the ultra-prog thing. This is a band with its own sound. There's an album that came out after this that will be up for discussion in a few days. Meanwhile this whistle-whetter is worth the couple of peanuts you shell out if you like avant rock.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Zombies, Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London, DVD/CD

For a band celebrating 50 years together, the Zombies do not show their age on the DVD/CD package Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London (Convexe CVX902141). It's the band with original members Rod Argent on keys, vocals and compositions, Colin Blunstone on lead vocals, Jim Rodford on bass and vocals and relatively new (?) members Tom Toomey on guitar and backing vocals, and good drumming from Steve Rodford.

It's 70 minutes of together band performances in an acoustically sound studio with a small but appreciative audience, plus 10 minutes of interviews. The CD gives you all the music sans interviews.

What's remarkable is how good the vocals are--Colin Blunstone sounds great, maybe even a touch better than he used to, and the rest are in fine form. Rod Argent's keys have a prominent presence and solo role, as they always have, and there are some tasty guitar solos here and there.

They cover some of the iconic hits of the early days, "She's Not There," "Time of the Season" and some that we didn't hear all that much Stateside, plus some songs from the Argent days and Colin's solo career. Finally, we get a crop of brand new songs as well, and they are not bad, not bad at all.

This is early-classic-rock power-pop at its finest. They clearly relish playing together, even after all these years. And they make some kinetic magic here!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Surface to Air

The influence of the band Oregon is with us still. And why shouldn't it be, since they along with McLaughlin did much to create an acoustic chamber jazz that showed some Indian classical roots but added a Western harmonic pallet and a mostly through-composed melodic lyricism of their own?

I suppose that's a rhetorical question, but never mind. Today we have a trio that clearly has gotten something from that new tradition and taken it somewhere along the way to a new place. I refer to the trio Surface to Air and their new self-titled album (NCM 40133).

Surface to Air is Jonathan Goldberger on acoustic guitar, Rohin Khemani on tabla and other eastern percussion, and Jonte Siman on the upright bass.

This is music that foregrounds acoustic guitar compositions with lively tabla and bass work. There is room for improvisation and it comes in where you expect it. Goldberger however is not the sort of guitarist that is going to wow you with 32nd note runs. He is subtle, a little different, and after an overall matrix, as is the band.

Aside from that fact that they are playing in this vein, the compositional frameworks and total feel is what makes this album well worth hearing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra), Sounds Like This

The key to a successful jamband is the quality of jams, of course, but also the vibrancy of the rhythm section and the quality of the songs. You get all that with ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) and their recent Sounds Like This (Brushfire).

The vocals are strong and the songs stick in the mind. Lebo plays some very nice guitar (but perhaps even more would be even better. That's what live gigs are for I suppose) and the rhythm team gets a head on things.

The Dead and Phish are lurking in the background somewhere, but they only lurk. It's a strong sort of offering and will definitely find adherents and followers in addition to the ones they have already garnered. Nicely done.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Maria Neckam, Unison

Wow, Maria Neckam. She has a very expressive and precise voice and she uses it to put across her very original songs. That is, on her album Unison (Sunnyside 1321). It's her and a good small band dedicated to realizing her unusual style of songwriting. Aaron Parks does some very nice keywork in particular. Nir Felder gets off a good solo or two on guitar also.

Maria's songs are about relationships, love, the cosmos, and show a sensibility that is perceptive and warm, smart and visionoid. Her melodies combine singsong symmetry and the opposite, asymmetrical odd-time meters or mathematically unusual phrase lengths.

And what counts is that the music works and the performances are excellent. The combination of voice and song makes for something quite unusual and inviting when you let it come inside you. It's jazzed, progged, and decidedly not your standard rehashed fare.

If you have adventure in you, this should be heard. But not just once. Because you might not get it with once. An artist, she is!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Toulouse Engelhardt, Toulousology, Definitive Guitar Soli, 1976-2009

Toulouse Engelhardt was one of the somewhat lesser-known artists in the Takoma stable of acoustic original post-folk guitarists back in the day, but he was good. He is good. Lost Grove Arts (1007) wisely has seen fit to put together an anthology of some of his best solo work on acoustic 12-string and a tad of the electric on Toulousology.

It's a very handy way to get to know Toulouse's stylistic universe. He sometimes sounds more like Kottke than Fahey. But then again he mostly sounds like himself.

There are original sounds, some very nice open-tuning picking and a good cross-section of moods and modes.

Based on this compilation he deserves a wider exposure. If you like a good acoustic blast of fresh air, here you have it.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gary Morgan and PanAmericana, Felicidade

It's time for a switch of gears today, to a Latin-world-jazz big band of note: Gary Morgan & Pan Americana and their album Felicidade (CAP 1014). It's a full big band under Gary's direction, playing some very nice charts worthy of our ears for the grooving Latin qualities as well as for some very tight big band sounds, played with plenty of verve and fire. That is to say that is as much a very good big band as it is a very good Latin big band.

That is to say that the arrangements hold their own whether you are listening for the Latin qualities or just experiencing a big band in full flower. The program is divided more or less evenly between Gary Morgan originals, and they are quite good, and Latin compositions by the likes of Jobim and Pascual.

There are very decent soloists to be heard, the rhythm team hits it and the section work is virtually flawless and full of spunk.

This one has been out since 2007, but it should not be missed if you are into the big band modern style and/or the Latin thing. Bueno! Bueno!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gunnelpumpers, Tritonium

Some music takes a clearing of the mind and its expectations to appreciate. The Chicago band Gunnelpumpers makes that sort of music. Gunnelpumping, they inform us, is "the act of standing on the rear gunnels of a canoe and propelling the craft forward by pumping one's legs." And does the music do that in its own way? Maybe it does.

At any rate their new third album, Tritonium (Spiritflake 0003) is the topic at hand. It's two upright basses (including Douglas Johnson from the other day on his Clevinger bass), one electric bass, electric guitar, drums and percussion.

This is free psychedelia that depends not so much on individual solos or harmonic movement as drone-groove with multiple musical textures of the acid rock sort in general, but lots of bass doings especially.

It's not music where there are going to be composed themes. It's free and goes where it does in semi-trance fashion. The old bands from the halcyon days of psychedelic rock would often jam on a single pitch center. Gunnelpumpers do that but in a much more evolved way than some of those early raga stimulata events at the Fillmore.

And that's what is happening here. Not so much riffs, not strings of solos, but collectivity and sound texture.

They do what they do well. It's something to zone with. So get it and zone.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Van Der Graaf Generator, Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studios, London CD/DVD Set

Prog icons Van Der Graaf Generator return as a trio for a well-played concert DVD/2CD set Recorded Live in Concert at Metropolis Studio, London (Convexe 902139).

It's them in a studio with a small audience, holding forth with old favorites and new fare. What's remarkable is how well-in-tune they are, at an age when others let it slide a bit sometimes. Not these guys. It's Peter Hammill on digital piano, guitar, vocals; Hugh Banton on keys and organ bass pedals; and Guy Evans drums. That's it. They play some pretty complex music, live, and sound great.

It's a nice idea to put together a full studio-concert on DVD and then put the music on 2-CDs as well. And there is some very wonderful Van Der Graaf to be had here.

Prog fans rejoice. Others might like this too!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Manner Effect, Abundance

Manner Effect is a band that has come up gigging. Their first album, Abundance (self-released) has a group togetherness and drive-in detail that a group, when everything clicks, develops over time on the bandstand.

That and strong originals, an interesting choice of covers, and talent make this a very good listen.

Sarah Elizabeth Charles is the vocalist. She has a great instrument, pleasing and dead-on, power and tenderness, looseness and preciseness. She uses it to great advantage here. She also has a big hand in many of the originals.

The band is tight and loose in the right ways as well. PJ Roberts plays acoustic and electric basses, and sometimes guitar, and writes some of the original material. Logan Evan Thomas does nicely on the keys and writes and co-writes many of the songs. Caleb Curtis has a modern contemporary sound on winds. Josh Davis is behind everything with good-feel drumming.

The CD album comes with a companion DVD with interesting live footage, band interviews and between-gig hanging, a video and etc. It's a "get to know the band" sort of thing.

There's a hip-hop/rap moment that is short. I did not find it necessary but some folks will no doubt like it. It's a minute out of an interesting song, so you take it or leave it.

This to my mind is the best new jazz-rock-R&B outfit to come along in quite some time. Sarah is a marvel, the songs are excellent and the band is together. The emphasis is on the quasi-Latin fuzoid jazz feel and good new songs. Well and so I think you should hear it. Definitely.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tim White and Joe Paulino, Inhale Slowly

Surprises can be fun. I didn't expect to hear what I did when I put Tim White and Joe Paulino's Inhale Slowly (WhiteGales IS2011) on my player.

It's Tim White on bamboo flute, sitar, guitar and esraj; Joe Paulino on piano, synthesizer and percussion.

Now no doubt it will be sold, and can function as new age music. It has the ambient soundscape thing happening too.

But it is substantial music. Indian-classically inspired ambiance, with very beautiful flute and sitar playing, piano embellishments that set off and complete the Indian oriented sounds, and chordal drones.

It is very nice indeed. I'd say it's a great antidote to our troubled times, but sometimes I think the times will win in the battle for our hearts and moods, so let's just say that it is marvelously evocative, relaxing, yet quite substantive fare. Yes. Good show.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Bratsch, Urban Bratsch

Bratsch is a French combo that plays all kinds of European folk-roots music with a panache and enthusiasm that becomes infectious as you listen. It's accordion, violin, guitar, clarinet and etc., and it moves along nicely.

You hear a Gypsy influence, the Klezmer heritage, folk dance, a little Kurt Weill, balladry and much else besides.

Sometimes they sing and that works out well.

The odd-time signatures typical of some of the roots music of the region are handled with ease and intricate, ornate melodic figures come through like heat lightening on a hot summer's night. And sometimes they just throw a curve at you and do something rooted, but original sounding.

It's great fun and very well played. Bravo!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Elliot Sharp Trio, Aggregat

The trio configuration of Elliot Sharp with Brad Jones on bass and Ches Smith, drums, works well. Their album Aggregat (Clean Feed 250) shows that. Ches is a create free-pulsating drummer who uses the whole kit in creative ways; Brad Jones gets some good free, forward-driving things happening on bass.

The big surprise of this disk is Elliot's presence on tenor and soprano as well as electric guitar. I've heard him on reeds for some of his larger ensemble compositions and he always sounded right. But in a small group setting like this one he gets a chance to stretch out. He has a sound, he has ideas, and he's his own man.

On guitar of course Elliot is a bonafide original and he lets go here with some psyche-out electric cranking in a free improv trio context for some more excellent work. His sense of form and compositional bent come through in his soloing here as elsewhere. His is a structured, form-creating freedom and he shows you how that works on this album.

Another good one from Maestro Sharp!