Friday, March 29, 2013

Paul Williams: Still Alive, A Film (DVD) by Stephen Kessler

Stephen Kessler in his film Paul Williams: Still Alive (Virgil Films DVD 670836) gives us a kind of cautionary tale that also happens to be a hell of a good yarn.

It's all about how you can do right, have great artistic and commercial success, and in so doing go sky rocketing into disaster. It is the story of singer-songwriter Paul Williams and what he did before and after "the crash" of events put an end to his career.

The premise of the film is that Stephen Kessler discovers that the hero of his youth, who vanished from sight some time in the early '70s, still lives. He finds him singing at a small club in the present day, talks with him, and they agree to make a film about Paul Williams today, his comings and goings. Williams insists that the film will end up being more about the film-maker than it will be about him, and in some ways he is right. But in the process Paul Williams is revealed quite candidly as the man who stepped into an abyss and emerged from it all somehow a better person for it.

This comes about via Kessler's everyday interactions with Paul, following and filming him on tour, making the rounds in dramatically humbler circumstances than during the halcyon days.

At first Williams tends to be standoffish, uncomfortable being back in the spotlight, but there is a dramatic turn of events when he at last invites Kessler to his house. They watch footage of Williams at the height of media fame, pretty well blasted with drugs and alcohol, filled with a kind of overweening pride. Williams confronts that past self at last for the cameras, and he doesn't like what he sees.

In the process the film takes you gradually ever deeper into the Paul Williams who was in a sense a victim of his own success, who had to let go of all of it and start over almost from nothing, who ends up becoming a sympathetic, likable guy whereas you see him in earlier footage increasingly becoming the self-absorbed king of the star-encrusted lounge lizards.

It's a film that gradually pulls you into its slice-of-life orbit to discover along with Steve who this recreated Paul Williams has become and what was left to him after it all went to smash.

A good look at the effects of '60s starmaking, what it made of people...and an absorbing story, well-presented to boot.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Honky, 421

I never heard the power trio Honky before. After digging in with their new release 421 (MVD 5556A) I am no longer a stranger, and glad of it.

The Austin, Texas, outfit plays boogie and riffed metal with fully drenched guitar and bass walls of sound, heavily driving drums and lead vocals that sound a little like Lemmy of Motorhead.

This is the hard stuff with songs that hang together and lots of torque. Metal heads will gravitate, but it's convincing even if you aren't a die-hard of that music. The lead guitar work is quite respectable and the band has a nice togetherness.

Very good stuff if you are in the mood.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Neil C. Young Trio, El Camino

Neil Young? No, Neil C. Young. A different Neil Young but one that plays some interesting electric guitar (and Neil Young the first, so to speak, does that too in his way but it's not time to talk about that). This Mr. Young has gathered together his music, put together a nice trio with Alan Whitham on electric bass and Richard Young on drums, and recorded a CD, his new one, called El Camino (Canadian-American).

We have some nicely electrified guitar-based jazz-rock going on throughout. This is music that owes something to the classic Gary Burton jazz-rock sides and the guitarists who occupied the string chair over the years.

It has some good, progressive "blowing" tunes going on and Neil C. lets loose with improvisations that do distinguish him as original. He can and does come up with some nicely turned single lines but it's his chordal improvising that especially sets him apart. He has unusual voicings and a good percussive feel.

The whole album flows well and it keeps sounding good after a bunch of listens. So that means you probably should get it!! That is, if a new guitarist with his own touch would fit in with your listening plans. . .

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wave Mechanics Union, Further to Fly

Sometimes you get a surprise. Sometimes you get an album that lays out so naturally you don't think how unusual it is until you've listened a couple of times. Then it hits you. The album by Wave Mechanics Union, Further to Fly (HX Music) did that to me.

It's a collaborative big band of talented arrangers, musicians, and singer Lydia McAdams. Jon Anderson of Yes makes a cameo appearance, too. They've taken some prog rock goodies and given them a big-band arranging spin. We've got 30 very good musicians here, including some string players, doing Paul Simon, Ben Folds, Suzanne Vega, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan and more.

The arrangements are by Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson and they are something else. "Third Stone From the Sun" for big band? Yes! The arrangements pop, the band is pretty hot and Lydia McAdams has a very charming, pretty yet subtle instrument-voice.

This is a hoot! And a great idea that comes off wonderfully well.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Doubt, Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love

Doubt is a crack post-prog-fuse outfit and they are back with a new offering, Mercy, Pity, Peace & Love (Moon June 049). They run the gamut with a set of good vibrations in a neo-psychedelic mode.

The trio is an excellent match: Alex Maguire with right-bright-idea keyboard sounds that go from period rock organ to contemporary cosmos space. Michel Delville is a guitarist of distinction, showing equal portions of chops and taste, spinning lines you might have wished you played yourself. Finally, Tony Bianco is a drummer who does it all right, driving in a blistering way, getting subtle when needed, giving us a kind of clinic on jazz-rock drumming while making up a critical one-third of the band.

There's some riff metal heaviness that sounds great, space music that hearkens back while moving ahead, a bang-up, over-the-top "Purple Haze," down a notch for a lyric interlude, then back at it with hard-hitting space anthems and some electric free playing.

This one has balance and ballsonics. Anyone with the need to take retro-space-age sounds into a new future will find this a good way to begin the journey.

Important and very enjoyable.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

David Phillips Freedance, Confluence

Acoustic bassist-composer David Phillips has been leading his unit Freedance off-and-on for a very long time now. He did a very nice album on Naxos some time ago, a few more here and there and now he is back with the original lineup of himself on bass, John O'Gallagher on alto sax, Tony Moreno, drums, and the by now rather well known guitarist Rez Abbasi. They are joined by Glen Fitten, percussion, and Jon Werking on piano as needed. All on the new album Confluence (Innova 837)...

David writes well-conceived compositions and this album bears that out. They are diverse, harmonically-melodically-rhythmically lively vehicles for the sort of sophisticated jazz-with-rock-heft style the band does so well.

There is a strong improvised component to this band as you might expect. Rez Abbasi sounds as stunning as ever on guitar, whether it's developing a line that has its own east-west logic or getting some great chordal ideas in play, he is rapidly becoming a seminal force out there. John O'Gallagher has a fluidly cool-to-hot alto tone and improvisational ideas that work well within the compositional frameworks. There is a post-bop fluidity that he and Rez share and when they solo simultaneously it is quite wonderful for the kinetic excitement they generate together. Dave is an excellent bassist who does much more than standard background duties in this or any other of his albums. His solos are vibrant-toned lyrical gems. And Tony Moreno gets an excellent rapport going with him at the same time as he gives everything a subtle push. Jon Werking comes off sounding good in his solo spots as well. Glen Fitten makes some good sounds when called upon. And so that is the band. . .

It's all about a balance between jazz composition and group presence here. This is jazz-rock with a mind, so to speak. It is a beautiful combination of excellent players and compositions that suit them. Many stars for this one, if I had a star system (which I don't). Give it an earful.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

10CC, Live in Concert, DVD

When 10CC were in their heyday, mid-to-later '70s, I was pretty much oblivious to them. I had interests elsewhere at the time, and by the later-'70s top forty radio was a relic in my eyes.

So when 10CC Live in Concert (MVD 5645D) arrived in the mail for possible review, my response was, "OK I'll listen, but..."

Well, turns out that the DVD gives you a nice overview of the group at its best ("I'm Not in Love") and its not-so-best (perky power pop). It's a revival of most of the original band and they certainly sound as good as ever. The good tunes sound better than I remember and there's a mostly unplugged set of songs written by bassist Graham Gouldman before there was a 10CC. It's actually a wonderful jolt of nostalgia to hear them do nice versions of "Bus Stop," "Look Through Any Window," "For Your Love," and even "No Milk Today."

Fans of the band will get all they might hope for. I found myself quite entertained in spite of my initial misgivings. The sound is great. The band has lost nothing, really, with the passage of time. In that way they are a model for oldsters looking to keep musically-vocally trim.

Oh, and the lead guitarist was and is quite respectably decent.

And it reminds you how badly the pop music industry has deteriorated? Or am I just getting too old to care about some of it? I don't know and it doesn't matter I suppose.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Empress Hotel, Heavy Halo

Everything I hear is not necessarily for me. Some things are for someone else and they are good in that. That's how I feel about the group Empress Hotel and their album Heavy Halo (Park the Van). It's power pop and I don't generally fall toward that tree. But it has a genuine DIY honesty.

I understand that they have been influenced by Prince, Sparks and Roxy Music, among other things. That may explain something, in that Sparks did not entirely enthrall me in their heyday.

The songs are direct and not at all terrible. The arrangement are simple combo ones but they have a charm and authenticity.

Give these folks a shot if that sounds good to you!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Scott Fields, 5 Frozen Eggs

Alright, so today it's not a matter of rock. The blog never has been and I suppose never will be only that. Today we consider something by an electric guitarist and his ensemble, something in the realm of avant jazz, free jazz if you like that term.

Scott Fields is a player of genuine stature in this realm. And the recording is a well-healed excursion with a top-notch ensemble. The album is named 5 Frozen Eggs (Clean Feed 258).

Scott Fields amassed some signpost-like and/or more fleshed-out compositions for the date to help the ensemble set mood, tone and direction. Then he and the group cut loose with some very free and eloquent improvisations. The results are what one might expect if you know the players--Marilyn Crispell on piano, Hamid Drake, drums, Hans Sturm, acoustic bass, and of course Scott on electric.

The Fields guitar style is pretty (sometimes very) electric and filled with all kinds of melodic twists and turns. You get the feeling listening as he plays that there is no discernable gap between what he thinks musically and what comes out of the instrument. The mind envisions lines of broad harmonic ramification, the hands execute with style and drama. He's creating lines that sound like they are completely his--because they ARE.

The piano improvisations of Ms. Crispell are, as always, extraordinarily creative and impactful. Her playing has a logic to it and flows in unending inspiration, or so it sounds. Hans Sturm churns it up at the bottom with an excellent sound and feel. Hamid Drake comes across as poised, dead-on, yet very free. He swings in his very own way when called upon and he like the others can create much that's inspired in a spontaneous setting. The complete drummer, he is.

So there you have it--four excellent improvisers doing great work interactively and individually, some appropriate compositional frameworks within which that happens, and a guitar stylist who belongs to a category of one, Scott Fields.

It's music that stays essential and vibrant throughout. If I were rich and they were available, I'd have these folks play at my birthday party! The next best thing is 5 Frozen Eggs. Happy birthday to everybody with this one! Fields and company create music that celebrates life, freely and smartly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Chelsea Light Moving, Thurston Moore's New Group

Now that Sonic Youth is on hold, maybe for good, we have a lack. Happily Thurston Moore has put together a new group, Chelsea Light Moving, and their first album (self-titled) (Matador) has plenty of torque to make up for what is no longer here.

To be specific, the album hits hard with the garagy psychedelia that made Sonic Youth so appealing to those inclined. The retuned, very distinctive guitar sound of Thurston and the Sonics is there very much as are his laconic dada lyrics and vocals.

The band is loosely together in all ways you might expect and they rock in the avant garage fashion.

So what's missing? Well, you know...

But never mind that. It is first class Thurston groupdom, heavy, squirrelly, innovative and thrashingly good. Don't hesitate!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Nick Millevoi, In White Sky, Tape or Free Download

Anybody who reads this blog regularly (or maybe I should start "If anybody...". . . no I do have regular readers and I thank them much!) will know I've been covering avant guitarist and electrician Nick Millevoi in various guises on this page. He's back, not that he ever left, with an unaccompanied solo spot In White Sky (The Flenser) (

It's a good workout of avant psychedelia with some biting, kicking and scratching feedback sustain going on and imaginative noise happening on top. This as usual is not exactly pablum for the masses. It's out there. It's psychedelic. It's very electric.

But that is why he is good. To be creative with something my cohorts and I used to fool around with in garages in New Jersey warms my heart. We knew it was something musically good, when it was, and if Hendrix started it (actually it started a little earlier) there was still plenty of room for creative souls to come up with poetic chaos.

Nick is such a soul. This one is off the wall in just the right ways. And you can either get the tape or a free download by pasting the link above into your browser. Yowser!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Crack the Sky, Ostrich

Time can sneak up on us and catch us napping. When a new CD by Crack the Sky came my way in the mail, I realized that I first came across the band in my music publishing days, when their first album came out, in, whoo, around 1975! To be honest by now I had forgotten the band just about entirely.

So don't ask me to remember what was on that first album. Ask away about the new one though, Ostrich (Aluminum Cat 99692). It's a snide view of life living inside some infectious combo power pop-rock.

The songs get to you and have plenty of girth and variety. The musicianship is very solid. The guitar players that solo are doing some nice things--there is more than one? I am not sure but if you know the band you can tell me in the comments and I will duly thank you for that.

It's like Steely Dan and the Talking Heads reinvented themselves as Crack the Sky. That's a fine thing, though before I heard this album I would not have known it.

Surprises can be good.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Yo La Tengo, Fade

Yo La Tengo reaches album number 13 with Fade (Matador). They do so with a bit of a flourish, sounding like a band that is so used to the studio that they come through "naturally" but with a pretty big sound.

It's the lyrical side of the band that has the flourish. It's post-Feelies neo-post-psychedelia. And it seems to me the music will be recognized as familiar-new rock by all the generations for which the late-'60s were either formative, or pre-conscious, or even pre-birth periods.

The song form thrives, the arrangements bring on reverse retro-rockets firing us into the future. In what sometimes seems a vast cultural wasteland out there, Yo La Tengo can survive and make real music that doesn't try and "product" you with its presence.

This is why they deserve to be where they are. Number 13 is lucky, auspicious, very good music. So leave your yeasty sludgepots behind and come on over to this one. That is, if you need some songs to wallpaper your present-day life. . .