Monday, December 29, 2014

Vezhlivy Otkaz, Geranium

Today we return to the inimitable sounds of the progressive jazz-rock ensemble from Russia, namely Vezhlivy Otkaz. A few weeks ago I covered their latest album, Geese and Swans Today another, in its Edition 2013, called Geranium (Altrock CD & DVD). On it we have the CD from 1999-2000 with bonus tracks, and a live DVD of the band in various venues and on a TV broadcast in 1998, 1999 and 2006.

As with the later album the driving force behind the sounds is Roman Suslov who wrote the music, plays acoustic guitar and sings the lead vocals. Again as before the band is a tight-knit outfit of horns, keys, bass and drums working though genuinely original routines that are both elaborate and driving, combining elements of modern jazz and adventurist song-spinning that give the non-Russian music enthusiast a very complete earful of what makes the band exceptional.

It is not quite accurate to say that Suslov is a kind of Russian Captain Beefheart. The music is not like Beefheart's really. Yet there is an art-song sublimity and instrumental thoroughgoingness that is as ambitious and as oddly successful as Beefheart in his prime.

The CD gives you 13 tracks to immerse oneself in. The DVD is a significant slab of the band doing several sets live.

Altogether Geranium confirms what Geese and Swans suggested: a band wholly original, unique and musically strong. The lyrics are in Russian so unless you know the language that part will remain enigmatic. But the music comes through regardless. It is significant. It is an excellent thing! Try and find this if you seek something different.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Ananda Gari, T-Duality with Rez Abbasi, Tim Berne, Michael Formanek

Ananda Gari, Tim Berne, Rez Abbasi, Michael Formanek...on drums and compositions, alto, electric guitar and contrabass, respectively. Turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that this is one potent gathering, as heard on Gari's recent album T-Duality (Auand).

This is open-ended, compositionally framed jazz of a high order, with excellent blowing from all concerned. The compositions are hip, ultra-modern sorts of things that point the players outward.

Gari's drumming is right there in free and straight-eight mode, Tim Berne gives us that acerbic heat for which he is so well known, Michael Formanek does on bass some very superior anchoring and free-wheeled tightrope balancing. And Rez Abbasi gives us some of his best playing on electric. He is on a roll lately and that means you are hearing some marvelous lining that is both fleet and smart. He matches Tim, who is also at his best, in the fired-up out-bop sense.

This is blowing and composition, group interplay and solo presence that will all put you on a cloud nine of appreciation.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Alan Silva, Lucien Johnson, Makato Sato, Stinging Nettles

As much as time ever travels onward there are artists and musics that will not be forgotten, no matter what comes after. One of those artists on the new jazz scene of course is Alan Silva, a monster jazz composer and bandleader, a creative force on orchestral synth, and a giant of a bassist, one of the few absolutely key ones in the flowering of "free jazz."

So when just now a new recording of a date from 2006 comes our way, with a lively trio of Alan on bass, Lucien Johnson on tenor, and Makato Sato on drums, I perk up. The album is Stinging Nettles (Improvising Beings 29), and it is a real winner on all counts.

You get Alan in full-strength form on bass, a very lucid Lucien Johnson on tenor, and master drummer Makato Sato.

It's an excellent free set that brings the best playing of the three to the fore. New Zealander Johnson not only keeps up with these two iconic freewheelers, he excels in his role. This fellow surprises you with a real sense of free-form virtuosity that fits right in with the cohesive vibrance of Alan and Makato.

There are eight numbers in all here. And every one has that special something of free inspiration and enough variety that the ears and soul get plenty of spiritual-aural substance to appreciate and get rocketed out with.

You could just listen to Alan alone and get a kind of tutorial of free bass acumen in action. But then all three are saying something throughout. So if I might, I'd like to recommend this one to you heartily.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes

It may be a truism to say that some artists, when they are on a roll, can play almost anything and make it sound great. And of course it isn't entirely true. But for all that guitarist Rez Abbasi seems to be in that moment. He got the idea to do an album with his Acoustic Quartet (with Bill Ware on vibes, Stephan Crump on acoustic bass and Eric McPherson on drums) of old fusion/jazz-rock worthies in an acoustic setting. Now that isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it could also not be good if it doesn't come off. No worries, though. Intents and Purposes (Enja 9621-2), the album in question, comes off superbly.

There aren't so many guitarists who can play electric or acoustic guitar with equal impact. Gary Lucas is certainly one. John McLaughlin of course. Django. But add to that Rez Abbasi. He sounds like no one else on acoustic, with a number of different tones, all of which perhaps have something to do with his South Asian heritage and its incredible string legacy. But no, that is no guarantee that somebody who hails from there can just pick up an acoustic and, voila! There is an artistry Rez has that has enabled him to get a beautiful singing tone out of the unamplified instrument, and then make some extraordinarily original music via his own sense of note choice and velocity.

That is what is going on consistently on Intents and Purposes. The choice of music works because of the artistry of Rez and the band. But the songs are good choices, too. We get some vintage electric Zawinul, Hancock, Corea, Williams, Coryell done with love and attention. The album brings out the melodic-harmonic sophistication of these tunes without the amplification. And so you hear them anew.

RAAQ is a group that has grown into an interactive singularity. All four are mutually attuned, so that the doing makes a very poignant something of it all.

Intents and Purposes works on just about any level you could think of. It is some seminal music. And most of all it reminds us how Rez Abbasi has arrived as one of the supreme guitar artists of our time. Needless to say you have to hear this.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics

When it comes to guitarists alive and very well today Gary Lucas is one of those very rare beings whose sound is recognizable, or rather sounds are recognizable with a single note. He has captured his identity fully on acoustic, resonator and electric. You can hear his way very strongly on an album that came out a while ago on an obscure 12" vinyl release but which is now very much available in all formats on Rare Lumiere Records.

I speak of Gary Lucas Plays Bohemian Classics, which I have been listening to happily over the last few weeks. "Bohemia" for those thinking only of hipster lifestyle refers to that Czech land bordered by Poland, Moravia, Germany and Austria. So we have musical classics from that area of Middle Europe, done by Gary on solo Gibson acoustic and also his resonator guitar.

What forms the centerpiece of it all is a complete adaptation of Dvorak's "New World Symphony" (Sym. No. 9), including of course the "Going Home" movement. But then we get Janacek's interlude from his "Cunning Little Vixen" opera and Smetana's principal theme from the "Moldau." Rounding out the disk we also get some wonderful electric psychedelia atmospherics by Gary with the Plastic People of the Universe and with Urfaust.

The music speaks for itself as a very Lucasian occasion. Gary manages through picking, strumming and sliding with various tunings to capture the essence of these beautiful classics in a way only he can do. It is a triumph of creative thinking and his brilliance as a guitarist to convey to us the complex orchestral scores with shall we say a minimum of means. At the same time the very idiomatic Lucas guitar sound and style come through. His resonator work sometimes sounds almost banjo-like, his Gibson both wiry and full. Then the two electric cuts bring out the other side of Gary, the wizard of electric sound.

If you don't know the classical pieces (but surely you will know some at least of the Dvorak) not to worry, because the music is strong and Gary Lucas brings you all you need to hear of them to appreciate them. If you do, like me, know the music then you will dig how he has captured it all the more.

This may be an unexpected offering but it is no less captivating and brilliant for it. It is Gary Lucas at his very best.

Do not miss it, you guitarists out there. And everyone else, too! I mean that. It is a beautiful listen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog Records of the Year, 2014

It's that time of the year again. Time to look back, to sum up, to ready ourselves for the new year ahead. And so it is also time for my Record of the Year picks. There have been some fantastic sounds to hear and I am happy to be in a position to hear them. Once again I pick three out of everything I reviewed on this blog. See the other blogsites for the rest of my choices. Here are the three choices for the Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog.

Best Album, Guitar: Richard Pinhas, Oren Ambarchi, Tikkun (Cuneiform) See review, October 31, 2014.

Best Album, Bass: Benjamin Duboc, St. James Infirmary, Solo Double-Bass (Improvising Beings) See review, June 20, 2014.

Best Album, Wild Card: Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord, Liverevil (Hot Cup) See review, February 4, 2014.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Saturn's Rival

Who, or what is Saturn's Rival (pfMentum 079)? It is a collective improvisational quintet who in their recent self-titled album give us a distinctive slant on free, open-form music. The group makes much of the color contrasts naturally inherent in the instrumentation. Maxwell Gualtieri is on acoustic and sometimes very electric guitar, Susan Allen on harp, Richard Valitutto on piano, Ryan Parrish on winds and Anjilla Piazza on percussion.

The sound color of the mix foregrounds in this series of four improvisations. The "string trio" of piano (including prepared and inside-the-piano approaches), harp and guitar (played in both conventional and unconventional ways) contrasts with sax and flute. The percussion plays in part a kind of mediating role between the two sections.

It is music that straddles "free jazz" and new music improvisation, with an open sound and a creative knack of making significant statements in various combinations and groupings.

The quintet realizes music of dynamic ebb and flow. There is an episodic structure to it all, a kind of free narrative that holds together with an inner logic of expression born of close listening and unhesitant resolution.

More than that? They make music that works on many levels. It is avant atmospherics of the sort that makes for an absorbing listen. Hear this if you can!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eric Hofbauer Quintet, Prehistoric Jazz, Volume 2, Quintet for the End of Time

We are back today for volume two of Eric Hofbauer and his Quintet and their "Prehistoric Jazz." Volume 1 (Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring") I covered here a few days ago. In the second volume Eric arranges the beautiful Messiaen WWII opus "Quartet for the End of Time," setting it in jazz terms for the quintet and so titling it Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music CNM 026).

As before the music gets fully treated by Eric's talented group: Eric on guitar, Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Todd Brunel on clarinet and bass clarinet, Junko Fujiwara on cello, and Curt Newton on drums.

As with volume one Eric does not give you an end-to-end transcription of the original work, but instead selects key motives and sections, giving the themes to various instrumental combinations and slanting the phrases at times for a more jazzed reading. And then as before there is a good amount of room for improvisation, which comes off excellently with both avant and early jazz elements.

The Messiaen really lends itself to this treatment, maybe even more so than the Stravinsky, and Eric makes much out of the music so that it convinces fully as jazz for today. There are certain passages of the work that sound so boppish you'd think Messiaen meant them that way. But kudos to Hofbauer for hearing the potential and realizing it so well. Eric, Jerry and Todd get some really interesting solos going too, at times simultaneously.

It is no easy feat to pull this off, but Hofbauer and company do so with style, swinging heat and smarts. This one brings it on home! Many stars, if I rated things that way. Highly recommended!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Mason Razavi, Quartet Plus

Guitarist, composer, arranger Mason Razavi has it all going. He is a player of the guitar of great finesse and taste, not to mention solid technique. He plays a semi-hollow with minimal amplification at times, getting an almost classical tone but not precisely; other times he ups the volume a tad for that equally classic mainstream jazz sound. Either way he plays rather wonderfully well.

Then he writes some fine tunes and arranges them with excellent sensibilities.

You get all this on his album Quartet Plus (First Orbit Sounds 222). The title puts it to you: you get half the album with his lively quartet; the other half adds five horns for a bigger sound. The quartet includes some very nice playing from Bennett Roth-Newell on piano and keys, Dan Robbins on upright and electric bass, and Cody Rhodes on drums. These are very capable associates who negotiate the compositional nuances of the Razavi originals, swing and funk along as one would hope for, and solo when called upon with style and skill. Listen to Dan Robbins for example on "From Thoughts to Words" and you'll hear some excellent bass work.

Then the larger band pieces come through with great part writing and a flourish.

Most of all there is the showcase of Razavi as guitar enchanter, a player who picks his notes wisely and comes through with the classicism of Benson, Burrell, maybe Hall, a subtle way but soulful too when he chooses and the music fits it. There's a little boppishness and lots of postbop.

It's a fine album on every count. Mason Razavi is serious! Seriously good. Seriously talented.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Eric Hofbauer Quintet, Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1, The Rite of Spring

Guitarist Eric Hofbauer does things his own way, in ways other people generally don't. I've covered his music on these pages before (type his name in the search box for those). But he steps further beyond the expected these days with a two-volume offering that takes some contemporary 20th century milestone classical compositions and arranges them for a jazz-centered quintet.

The initial volume: Prehistoric Jazz, Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music CNM 025) arranges Stravinsky's iconic orchestral work of the same name. We discussed the Bad Plus version of the work a while back (type in search box for the article), but this one is different. Where the Bad Plus took the score and arranged it in A-to-B fashion for a piano trio, Hofbauer zeroes in on critical segments of the score and reworks them for sextet, inserting adaptations and jazz elements and at the same time allowing for a good deal of improvisation in a through-composed way.

The band has their hands full realizing the motifs and getting loose and free improvisationally, or even at times sounding like an early jazz band and/or Duke's Jungle period outfit, too. Much credit goes to the arrangements/arranger, and to the sextet itself also for their creative transformations. Eric is on guitar, Jerry Sabatini on trumpet, Todd Brunel on Bb clarinet and bass clarinet, Junko Fujiwara on cello, and Curt Newton on drums.

This is a jazzification of the Rite all the way, yet there is the essence of Stravinsky's work there as well. It's very successful, very creative and enjoyable to hear. If you don't know the original you should deal with that, too, it goes without saying.

But Eric Hofbauer is up to very much good here. Check it out and you'll get it!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Anthony Pirog, Palo Colorado Dream

Guitarist Anthony Pirog has been breaking it up around Washington DC for a number of years and now finally he has a debut album, Palo Colorado Dream (Cuneiform). It joins Anthony with a heavily talented trio that includes Michael Formanek on acoustic bass and Ches Smith on drums in a program of advanced avant jazz-rock that more than holds its own. In fact each listen confirms and expands one's sense of accomplishment.

It's music high on composed content, with intricate finger work, looping acumen, and some full-out rocking in a controlled, well-paced sequence. You may hear a little Holdsworth there as precedent, but it goes well beyond that into a Pirog zone. There is smart notefulness, a rock-sustain guitar sound when needed and some really excellent trio work from the three together. There's a touch of alternate avant rocking here (some scronk done with a relish) and a complete lack of cliche.

You may know him as part of the two-member Janel & Anthony, whose work is covered here very favorably (type the name in the search box).

This shows us the full artist, guitar wizard, music tunesmith of power and depth. It's a beautiful record. I hope Anthony Pirog can give us lots more in the coming years. He promises as much as he delivers!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Boris Savoldelli, Garrison Fewell, Electric Bat Conspiracy

It isn't easy doing these review articles at the pace I've taken on, more or less 13 reviews a week. There is a point of despair where I feel like I am wasting my time, that the internet world is geared to non-exposure. But then the music and the musicians making it remind me why I do it.

Today's artists are a good example. Vocalist Boris Savoldelli and guitarist Garrison Fewell are artists totally in-the-moment. They are unpredictable in the most creative sense. You can never be sure what either will do. And so their pairing turns out to be virtue of the free-wheeling, anything goes approach they take on and the success of the risk-taking they allow themselves.

Their duo album Electric Bat Conspiracy (Creative Nation 024) puts the two in various zones as they see fit. Yet it does not jar but instead seems inevitable after a few listens. There is a Lou Reed tune and a couple of standards. The rest is open-form, yet contrastingly structured freedom.

You listen and you hear a musicality that comes out of work and inspiration in equal amounts. Garrison is a free player who is informed by his mainstream jazz training. He brings with him all the harmonic and melodic things you learn to become super-proficient on the guitar, and that is much, in the bop and after-context. And he applies that with his own special sensibility to the project at hand. At the same time Boris has finely tuned his vocal instrument over a long period so he isn't "just" winging it, but applying ways of going about things that have to do with training and experience.

The fact that both have travelled far from mainstream concerns makes the standards as they approach them all that more challenged--they defy the melodies, lyrics and harmonies to yield further things than they do in "standard hands" and they get something far different from them.

They also have compositional ideas of their own that they bring out well, such as "Circle Round." Then there is the flat-out outness that has to do with sound color and expression.

The end-product is a vocal-guitar duet set that takes us in very original directions, so much so that your first hearing, like mine, might be a sort of "WTF?!" For me that was my first take. Then I kept listening and it all started coming together for me, bit-by-bit, until now and I get it completely.

It's daring. The vocalizations, the guitar work and the ambiance. Daring. I can't say it fits any mould. Either a mainstream or an avant mould do not fit this music. That is in fact excellent! So listen to this one and get someplace different. It's worth the effort.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dave Davies, Rippin' Up Time

There was a point when the Kinks and their lead guitarist Dave Davies changed everything. I can still remembering hearing "You Really Got Me" on the radio and/or Shindig and how it hit me. Those power chords were so raw and primal. For my juvenile self it was exactly what I needed. "All Day and All of the Night" followed and I was a Kinks fan. That was it. Dave's simple power playing had as it turned out a germinal influence on the hard rock and metal to follow. The Kinks came out of the blues rockers, of course, and their early repertoire included tips of the hat to some of the greats, just as often with Dave singing the lead vocals on those as not.

Well now all these years later we are here and Dave Davies is too. He gives us a solo album Rippin' Up Time (Red River 157) that shows us he not only hasn't lost it, but that he's kept it and grown it. Ten songs, seemingly originals, grace the album and they have that elementality of hard early rock as experienced now. Dave's voice still has that bad-can-be-better-than-good if it's good raucous rawness. His songs sing of the old days and today. He's got a small band on hand that rocks it and Dave's guitar still has the elemental hipness.

There's nothing slick about this album and that's how it should be. Yeah! The first punks? I don't know. Who cares? Dave still sounds good.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lumen Drones, Nils Økland, Per Steinar Lie, Ørjan Haaland

The only thing constant is constancy. Modern music-makers, if they are sincere about their art, find a personal aural space to dwell in and make something of. The creators may change their style over time, but each slice of time-music has a something that expresses the time we live in as it expresses something of the music-makers themselves as artists.

That was brought home to me once again with a release I recently received in the mail, Lumen Drones (ECM B0022099-02). It is a threesome playing music they dub "psychedelic drone." Well, that it is, just not anything generic in that mode.

The threesome consists of Nils Økland on the Hardanger fiddle, Per Steinar Lie on guitars, and Ørjan Haaland on drums. The latter two have been part of a post-rock outfit, The Lower Frequency in Stereo. Nils is known for his fiddle mastery. He appeared as guest on Lower Frequency's album Futuro in 2008. One thing led to another and in 2010 the three played together as a unit as part of a concert to benefit Haitian earthquake victims in 2010.

The result was that the three began getting together on a regular basis, jamming. The results were singular, with a drone psychedelic ambiance that mixed with the folk qualities of earlier folk drone music.

Lumen Drones, the self-titled album that is their first together, is the initial offering. It is what it is advertised to be, but with such an ambience and rootedness that it ends up becoming a genre of one at this point. All three contribute importantly as individual musicians, yet the totality is very much a combinatorial mix.

And that mix is a delight. I would hardly call it psychedelic light, unless by that is meant luminosity, for there is light in this music, filtered by the haze of being, dappled by the play of leaves in the wind, shifting yet constant. Yet it is not precisely "heavy," so "light" exists here also in the sense of capable of being airborne, floating above the density of our humdrum everyday existence.

Drones and the wash of ambient play is taken to heart by the three and embodied in their personal statement of what they do right now. And it is good. Very good.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Cellar & Point, Ambit

The Cellar & Point is a "garage chamber" DIY group headed by Joe Branciforte on drums and Chris Botta on guitar. They show some very fascinating progressive ways on their recent album Ambit (Cuneiform). They make notable use of the studio to create a sound that sometimes reminds a little of Zappa's later synclavier works in the combination of new music, rock and jazz elements, but not so much an imitation as a lineage affiliation. They bring in some very capable group members in guitarist Terrance McManus, violinist Christopher Otto and cellist Jack McFarland (both members of the JACK quartet), vibraphonist Joe Bergen (founding member of the Mantra Percussion ensemble) and studio bassist Rufus Philpot.

They do some hefty avant rock covers of Ligeti and Webern as well as compositions of their own, both very advanced and driving. They get a sound that is of their own make, distinctive yet in the edgy new prog avant zone. There are some very hip guitar solos, some combustible drumming and much ensemble uncanniness that keeps your ears on full alert at all times.

Some of the music has an ever-shifting accent-meter funkrocking with layered ensemble patterns and variations. But everything they do has not only credibility but real brilliance.

Anyone who digs the new music-avant rock nexus will find this a beautiful example. I once again am impressed with Cuneiform's continued commitment to that netherland of music between borders that shows us the health and forward moving nature of new electricity.

Kudos to Cellar & Point!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Led Bib, The People in Your Neighborhood

For their 10th anniversary Led Bib has come out with two simultaneous releases, one the limited edition LP The Good Egg, which was covered here several weeks ago (see the post listings to click on that), and another full-fledged CD we turn to today, The People in Your Neighborhood (Cuneiform).

This latter one is a blockbuster, with intricate compositional substantiality conjoined with full-throttle performatives. They kick it good, in short.

It hit me listening to this one that really what we have is music in the jazz-rock hardness tradition of mid-period Soft Machine, only extended with originality. The keys and bass give the electricity to it all, the drums launch the music into orbit, and the horns both have compositional importance and kick-out-the-jams solo presence.

This band is serious! The LP got my attention; the CD got my allegiance. I am forsworn now as a Led Bib fan. That's how contentful and exciting this music seems to me. All prog jazz-rock listeners and players need to check this one out. Enough, except a happy tenth anniversary to these folks.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jalilah's Raks Sharki, Stage Cuts, Modern Egyptian Dance Music

If you know the music of the mid-east well enough, you do not need to be told that Egypt has a fine tradition of mid-eastern large band music (Oum Kaltsoum's band comes to mind) that when done well is irresistible. The bands of this sort have a vibrant percussion section, an oud or two and other plucked stringed instruments, perhaps a piano and string bass, reeds and a flute perhaps, and a violin section. Then of course there is usually a lead vocalist or two and backup singers.

If it is the real thing there is the traditional tuning of the orchestra which differs slightly from standard Western tuning. And the arrangements are highly developed.

A modern updating of this sound that keeps to the essentials of the style in exciting ways can be heard on the recent album by Jalilah's Raks Sharki. The album is called Stage Cuts.

It has all the elements described above and a pronounced rhythmic underpinning that makes it very much music for dance (but no, it sounds nothing like disco or the modern equivalent).

This is excellent music that brings out all that makes the style a joy to hear. It grooves like nothing else quite does.

Get with this one!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Focus, Golden Oldies

If you were there, then you probably still are. I refer to 1971-2 when the Dutch group Focus hit the FM airwaves with their prog-metal classic "Hocus Pocus." It was a song pretty ubiquitous (everywhere) then. I must say I liked it well. Time went by and I all but forgot the impact that the song had on us, many of us.

The band went on to do more excellent prog-metal things but I was preoccupied more with jazz and new music so I missed much of it. The band went its separate ways in 1978, but reformed in the new millennium. Guitarist Jan Akkerman was gone but original member organist-flautist Thijs van Leer was on hand with a quartet that included Menno Gootjes on guitar, who turns out to be quite good.

This year the newly constituted band re-recorded their biggest hits from the original days, Golden Oldies (Island Out of Focus Records), and I've been listening. Of course "Hocus Pocus" is there along with eight other gems.

I must say that the band sounds great, the songs still come across as vital and this all makes for a corkingly good album.

The sound is vivid and the band cranks it out like yesterday was today, which in some ways it still is. I recommend this one if you were there or even if you were not. It's excellent music.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Steve Tallis, The First Degree

Australian blues-rock-alt institution Steve Tallis returns with a very strong effort on The First Degree (Zombi Music 7). Steve made a few acoustic oriented albums in the past few years (type his name in the search box above for the review posts on those) but he returns to an electric hardness on The First Degree, which comes across with a blues-rock heft that works extraordinarily well.

Steve has a heavily underscored voice that comes in part out of Chicago lineages and Captain Beefheart. But it is only an affinity and a rooted thing--because the music is very much Steve's, as is the ultimate sound. He has his regular trio on hand, Steve doing the vocals and the electric guitars, Skip McDonald on electric bass, organ and backup vocals, and Evan Jenkins on the drums.

There is a lyrical directness that is poetic but hard edged. Steve Tallis sings of love won and lost, longing and tough times, all which gives the music a soulful quality that the music amplifies. There are some hard rocking riff tunes, some urban blues influenced kickers and some metal-meets-classic Chess records mixes.

It is all very much on the mark. Songs, vocals and electric instrumentalisms all come together to produce what one might call a Steve Tallis masterpiece. It belongs up there with important rock releases of the year, no question. If you don't know Steve Tallis, and you probably should, this is the place to start. If you like the transient zone between metal and classic electric blues, this album covers it to a "tee"! In its very own way.

Highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Led Bib, The Good Egg

I am playing catch-up again today, getting some space to cover an LP-only release by the avant rocking UK-based jazz improv outfit Led Bib. The Good Egg (Cuneiform) starts and finishes in high gear. They are a band with a manic energy that only lets up for a few quiet moments and you don't want it any different once you get on their wavelength.

The band consists of bandleader Mark Holub, drums; Pete Grogan, saxophone; Chris Williams, saxophone; Liran Donin, double bass and Toby McLaren keyboards/piano. Donin's very strong double bass and the highly electrical jolt of the music gives everything a rather heavy patina in common with avant prog-rock yet there is the freedom and solo jolt of avant jazz.

The music was recorded at two different live venues and gives you the kinetic charge a good live session should have. Chris Williams wrote one of the numbers; Mark Holub the rest of them. They are intricate and driving springboards for a good deal of together reed work and some prominent keys. The bass-drums rhythm team has clout and creative thrust.

If an electric charge in open avant jazz-rock is something you dig this album gives you all of that and some distinctive ways of going about it all that sound great after a few listens.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lenny Sendersky, Tony Romano, Desert Flower

If I am a little late posting on this one, I apologize to the artists. It's not because the album today is less worthy. I've been pummeled with promos so much that my on-deck stacks have been in need of serious pruning. This one slipped into limbo as a result. Nonetheless this is solid.

I speak of course of the co-led Lenny Sendersky-Tony Romano group and their album Desert Flower (LeTo). Lenny plays alto and soprano, Tony is on acoustic classical guitar. They gather together a hip congregation of heavies in Steve LaSpina on upright bass, and Matt Kane at the drums. Then they add some guests of note for two cuts each--the inimitable Randy Brecker on trumpet, vibes vet Joe Locke and singer Cleve Douglass.

The main attraction are the co-leaders. Each supplies four originals and they are tuneful, harmonically active ones that set the table well for soloing. A standard, "Nature Boy" is there. And then there's a not-so-well-known Duke Ellington number, "My Fathers Island." The very out-front, original vocals of Cleve Douglass makes this song come very much alive. I'd play it if I had a radio show.

Lenny gives us a gorgeous tone and he has good ideas. Tony has a very well-schooled mainstream bossa-to-postbop versatility that comes through in artistic ways. He is someone to hear, surely.

The band cooks, solos are sparkling, and in the end one feels satisfied that good jazz has happened.

Nice one!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wired for Sound, Mozambique

Contemporary Afrobeat/new African music from Mozambique comes to us nicely in a mobile unit anthology of artists and music from the north of the country recorded on location over two months for the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa. Wired for Sound, Mozambique (Freshlyground) presents 17 of those tracks, covering zouk, traditional sounds, electric grooves and a little African rap.

The sound quality is excellent, the performances inspired for the most part. It gives you an excellent picture of the music scene there now. It is a mix of traditional and electric instruments, vocalizing songwriters, choirs and bands.

And yes what's going on there as far as electric guitar and bass playing can be readily heard in a holistic context. We've come a long ways from the early folk-highlife sounds of early-to-mid last century. Everything grooves and has integrity, a drive that is African and a bluesy demeanor that appeals.

If you want to know what's up there now, this gives you an excellent leg up on it all. And it is a joy to hear.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tom Chang, Tongue & Groove

As always, New York serves as a potent breeding ground for new improvisational music, jazz if you will. Guitarist Tom Chang brings us a stirring example of the sort of combinations possible these days on his album Tongue & Groove (Raw Toast). He takes his own formidable compositional and guitar-wielding skills and forms around it a band of some heavy players. Chang brings in a potent one-two-punch reed section in Greg Ward on alto and Jason Rigby on tenor. He picks a rhythm section of equal weight in Chris Lightcap on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Then he adds the world music influence of Akshay Anatapadmanabhan on kanjira and mridangam (South Asian hand drums), and Subash Chandran on konnakol (Indian rhythmic vocal syllabification).

The compositions are inventive, modern, freely articulated straight-eight swinging affairs that give good room for the improvisations and set up loose grooves that lope along with heat and torque.

The South Asian percussion contingent adds another dimension when present, but it all fits together as a modern, unified mostly post-rock-funk kind of open jazz. Everybody sounds great and Tom Chang shows how his guitar work synthesizes in its own way the advances that a rather electric guitar approach have made over the past decades. He wastes no notes and says much in compact solo spaces. That is true too of the reeds.

It's music of today, fused, open and complicated by nice twists and turns.

Very recommended.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Joel Harrison, Mother Stump

Joel Harrison is a guitarist I've been following over the years, beginning with a review for Cadence a pretty long while back. I've missed things of his I am sure, but he seems to be playing ever more cohesively in recent times. You can hear some very good things on a recent album of his, Mother Stump (Cuneiform).

He's been thinking about his roots more lately, and this album reflects a kind of summing up of what has made him what he is today. The album puts the emphasis on hitting it with compositional material playing a lesser role. Most of the music is in the form of covers, an eclectic mix that ranges from Luther Vandross, Paul Motian and a spiritual to George Russell and Leonard Cohen.

The music comes to us in quartet or trio format, with good contributions from sidemen Michael Bates (bass), Jeremy "Bean" Clemons (drums), and Glenn Patscha (keyboards).

But it is Joel who makes it all exceptional with a full-fledged smartly soulful psychedelic jazz transparency that varies from track-to-track. He may go to the slide for a down home southern blusiness or he may create drifts of soundscapes that layer atop a rocking rhythm section. And just about anything in between. There is as much variety of rootfulness as the mix of songs would indicate. And yet there is always Joel with a sense of balance directing things forward.

When the music is done you are left with the feeling that Joel Harrison is in many ways a complete artist, not a bopper but someone who has put down roots in an alternative vision of lineages. You won't hear Wes Montgomery rechannelings (and I am not ragging on that either) so much as you will hear the electricity that came into guitar playing from blues and rock and combined with the notefulness of the jazz sense.

For all that this is a very good record. It gives you a better idea of where Joel Harrison has come from than perhaps any previous record, yet it gives you also where he is, right now.

It makes you want to hear where he is going to go next. But it also satisfies the lover of really nicely done guitar playing. He is a consummate artist and he shows you why on Mother Stump.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Richard Pinhas & Yoshida Tatsuya, Welcome in the Void

Today we have music that complements well the recording I reviewed on this past Friday. It is again guitarist Richard Pinhas, this time in tandem with drummer Yoshida Tatsuya, for an album-lengthed soundscape called Welcome in the Void (Cuneiform). Like Friday's Tikkun it features Richard's looped-guitar soundscapes, again uncanny space explorations of infinite sustain, a post-Frippertronics spectacular. This time a second guitarist is replaced by the energetic space drumming of Yoshida Tatsuya.

As before this is music of great cosmic plentitude, a droning, blazing collision of like-minded sounds. I like this one no less than Tikkun, though perhaps that one has an even more impactful jolt because it is a larger wash of sound at times--at least in terms of having two guitars, sequencer and drums.

But that is in no way to take something away from this one. It is a definite winner. If you had to start with just one, I would go first with Tikkun. But then it is most certainly a good thing to have both.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Richard Pinhas, Oren Ambarchi, Tikkun

When you hear music that corresponds to music you hear in your own head there is a special connection. One of those musics is certainly the album Tikkun (Cuneiform CD & DVD set). It is one of two exceptional recent duet outings featuring guitarist Richard Pinhas. For this one he is joined by guitarist Oren Ambarchi, notable for his work with Sunn.

Tikkun has the ambience of Fripp and Eno at their best but the drive of ultra-psychedelic trance music. Pinhas's Heldon band of the '70s and his later collaboration with noise-ologist Merzbow have something formative to do with this CD work and its live DVD companion. Yet the results here are on an adjacent, yet differing planet.

It is maximalism. It is a thick heady crust of riff, bash, drone, scronk and otherwise feedback drenched sustained electricity. Ambarchi and Pinhas hit it off together. So much so that their playing blends into an orchestral wash such that one cannot tell the two apart. This matters not, because the music is incredibly cosmic.

Ambarchi and Pinhas achieve liftoff immediately and they journey far into space. It is a psychedelic tour de force, something far beyond the ordinary, far outside the realm of normalcy yet incredibly evocative. There are drums and sequencers in the mix, but the thrust comes from the guitars, surely.

Can I just suggest you hear the music at this point? There is where words do not matter. Just listen to this one!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lili Boniche, Trésors de la Musique Judéo-Arabe

As a novice to Lili Boniche (1921-2008) and his art, I listened to the World Village reissue (with extra cuts) of his classic album Trésors de la Musique Judéo-Arabe (World Village 479094) without knowing exactly what I was hearing. But I got onto its wavelength quickly enough.

Lili was a popular vocalist who combined the Judeo-Arab-Andalusion roots of his Algerian homeland with modern Western elements. The result is a very attractive mix of Latin dance forms (rumba, tango), the introduction of Western instruments (piano, clarinet) and modern elements with traditional Algerian song for a music of the cabaret. It's the music you were somewhat likely to hear in Casablanca at the cabaret clubs in the mid-century, Rick's American Cafe notwithstanding.

There are songs with more of a traditional element and those more modernized, but throughout this is music that stimulates and entertains as it also fascinates in its early east-west fusion.

I recommend it strongly. Listen for some beautiful vocalizing, some nice oud in the orchestra, some hot east-west clarinet, other excellent instrumentalizing, and the arrangements!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tetuzi Akiyama & Anla Courtis, Naranja Songs

Today something a little different, namely some acoustic guitar duets between Tetuzi Akiyama and Anla Courtis in an album entitled Naranja Songs (Public Eyesore 127).

Forget about what your expectations might be for two acoustics. Akiyama and Courtis give us some very abstract, spatially open, almost Asian meditative new music that I presume involves total improvisation yet has structure born out of a unified vision.

There are four segments, each expressing in distinct ways the myriad sound possibilities available. The first piece, "Mind Mochileros," unwinds like a slow-speed abstract music box, a two-person counterpoint of open exploration that has harmonically expansive consistency. The music haunts quietly yet insistently.

"Springs and Strings" sets up sonic universes opened up by string bowing and "prepared" string pizzicato. Complex texture and timbres are achieved with a harmonic-overtone richness that belies the simple origins in the acoustic guitars involved.

"The Citrico Vibe" works with recurring note patterns that gradually lengthen as a careful attention as always to creating distinctive guitar soundings comes into play. This is restful yet very exploratory, with an acoustic drone ultimately contrasting against multi-note chordal repetitions and open strings recurring in interesting circularities.

"Los Frets Nomades" closes out the album with delicately sounded chordal motives that open out into a panorama of variations on variations while bowed sounds contrast and make complex the overall ambiance. The bowed sounds increase in density and timbral complexity in the end for a soundscaping that offers a fascinating poetic undercurrent of open yet tensile qualities.

I perhaps resort to some somewhat obscure descriptions to try and capture the world this music invokes. It is a sonically pleasing adventure that comes forward into your sound consciousness in ways that have no simple verbal equivalent.

It is experimental guitar music on a very high level. Akiyama and Courtis succeed in reconstructing the two-guitar improvisational setting where others have tried and perhaps not done as well. This is a gently pleasing yet very avant rethinking of guitar acoustics.

Ravishing. A breakthrough!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pete Seeger, Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger

Say what you like about the late Pete Seeger. He did more than anybody to make American folk music what it has been for us in our lifetimes. He was both a popularizer and an authenticist. He could get folk music into the hearts of Americans while at the same time acting in part as America's conscience, as a musical spokesperson for the poor and downtrodden, the victimized, the working man and his plight. And he made the folk song something more than what children sing in elementary school. He was at the forefront of a movement that transformed America, at least for a time but also permanently in the widest sense, made it aware of its musical and folklorish past.

All this is documented and presented in a two-CD set Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger (Dynamic Nostalgia 4931). It amasses live recordings and some studio sessions covering the full spectrum of his career. We get Pete Seeger in his real folk mode--a singer with guitar or banjo. We get some sides with the Weavers, who had considerable success through pop versions of classics that now sound dated but nonetheless were historically important. Sides with the Almanac Singers have a bit more substance and authenticity. Then the best known and no doubt the best here involve Pete as solo artist, covering traditional folk tunes as well known as "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" and those more obscure essentials we came to know in part because of his presence, such as "Johnny has Gone for a Soldier." Then of course there were songs that came to our ears especially via Seeger and might not be known today if it were not for him--Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" for one. He helped paved the way for a country-wide appreciation of Afro-American "folk" music as well.

Hearing today his anti-war, pro-working man, civil-rights oriented anti-racist songs reminds us that he stood for things that in no way put him in the graces of some authorities, yet he prevailed and helped create a movement that followed out of the music. He created a social awareness and changed the musical turf. We perhaps now take it all for granted because it all got assimilated, hit a peak in the later '60s, then somehow got incorporated into the mainstream. Later, more conservative times followed, but the legacy remains and perhaps is more present in our contemporary culture than it has been for decades. I'll leave that to others or myself in a more expansive mode, but we may be on the verge of a folk renaissance.

This is a nice set that gives you a wide view of what he did musically over time. Through it all was Pete Seeger, spirited singer, good banjo and guitar player, and charismatic showman that made you want to sing along! RIP Pete Seeger.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mitch Haupers, Invisible Cities, Original Jazz & Chamber Music

Guitarist-composer Mitch Haupers gives us a nice program of his music on Invisible Cities (Liquid Harmony Music). A good portion of the album is devoted to small group introspective jazz, with Mitch on guitar joined by Bob Mintzer on winds, Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. The other half of the record concentrates on classical chamber works, with added guests that altogether make up a small orchestral chamber ensemble. Both portions of the album work together to give you a full picture of Haupers the artist.

This is Boston-based music. Mitch teaches at Berklee. The jazz sessions are quietly cool with nicely built compositional frameworks and good soloing from all. Haupers has a pristine tone on electric guitar and plays some subtle solos. Mintzer, Pascual and Oles get space to solo, too. The level is high.

For the chamber works Ayn Inserto has arranged the compositions and conducts. Some straddle the jazz-chamber division, being a bit of both. Others are more solidly placed in a classical camp. All are tonal and sophisticated.

Some of it definitely might have been categorized as "third stream" years ago. That term no longer seems as important, because there are so many degrees of intermingling in jazz and classical out there these days that there may be no set norm that could define third stream from its lack. No matter.

The main point here is that Mitch Haupers excels as a very tasteful guitarist and a talented composer in the tonal middle-ground today. The album delights.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Steve Khan, Subtext

Steve Khan is a guitarist who's been everywhere, done just about everything and remains a vital musician. His latest album puts him in the driver's seat of a very hip vehicle. He knows where to take it. We are talking about Subtext (Tone Center 4075 2).

The band has strong roots in Latin jazz and this album reflects it well. There is Ruben Rodriguez on bass, Dennis Chambers on drums, Marc Quinones on timbales, bongos, etc., and Bobby Allende on congas and bongos. Put that together with some choice guests like Randy Brecker who appear nicely here and there, put together soulful Latin arrangements and playing routines, and pick some hip tunes. Then add Steve Khan as the primary solo voice.

That's what is happening here. Steve Khan gives the program good originals. Our recipe is almost complete. Finally, add some gems by Monk, Hubbard, Coleman, Shorter, a standard or two, and let loose.

Khan's guitar styling is the focus and he gives us performances that are very worthwhile. Khan is a great chordalist and he plays bop-blues-rock lines in fine fashion here, as master plectrologist.

This one gives you lots of good music! Recommended!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Johnny Butler, Raise it Up

Saxman Johnny Butler returns with an EP Raise it Up. This is music that works because there is edgy conviction. It's real and comes from the soul. It combines avant jazz, an electricity, rap and hip-hop elements. There's a bit of soul-rap vocalizing. There's a remake of the Bee Gees "Jive Talking" which incredibly does not sound dated. And there is Johnny Butler playing some vigorous sax.

The players are Johnny Butler, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet, production; Kassa Overall, drums; Aidan Carroll, bass on most of the album; and JJ Byars, alto saxophone for one cut.

I dig this one for the high-tension-line thrust, the jolt of big-sound electricity. That's why it's on the guitar blog, because it has push that guitarists who like push will dig. The arrangements strike me as well worth your ear attention.

It's cool. You can get it at Bandcamp.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring

I've followed the piano-bass-drums trio The Bad Plus more or less from their beginning. They have pioneered what a trio such as theirs can do as an ensemble, aside from the obvious of improvising keenly and sensitively, which they also do. They have done some daring things in their existence, but I suppose the very most daring thing is what they have done recently. That is, to recreate Stravinsky's iconic "Rite of Spring" for a trio (Sony Music Masterworks). Bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King set out to do this and succeeded nicely. The challenge was to be true to the essence of the score yet transform it to the trio setting.

That they do. It is a triumph, no doubt a very difficult thing to work out between the three of them and then proceed to execute, which they do with the drive the music demands.

Honestly, as nicely done and as difficult as the piano part was and is, I found myself listening more to the bass and drum parts especially closely. The two-piano versions of the "Rites" as I believe transcribed by Stravinsky himself gives you the jolt of a piano-only rendition and it has been available in recorded form for some time. So this Bad Plus version does not (for me anyway) really pack the wallop-shock of the piano sound. However, there is nothing as obvious about what the bass and drum parts might be. The point of course is how the trio works together. The rhythm section rises to the occasion by coming up with some very excellent parts. Reid Anderson's bass part alone is a treat to follow.

So that's why I put this disk on the "Guitar and Bass Review" blog.

Should a "jazz" group be permitted to take such liberties? I don't imagine such a question makes any sense anymore. Of course! Is it jazz? Who cares what it is! It may not be jazz. It does not matter because the hearing is the confirmation that this is valid, and in fact exciting. They do full justice to the Stravinsky work, though it is a very different experience of course as a jazz trio piece. Improvisation is not the thing here. Stravinsky's music is. I can't see any reason not to go and grab a copy, if you are so inclined.

The Bad Plus do the very difficult and make it seem like the very natural thing to do! That is an achievement. They are musical heavyweights. Bravo.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Here's something from Finland today. Koutus (SIBA Records SRCD-1015). Harri Kuusijärvi Koutus, to be exact. It's a unique sort of trio featuring Harri and his very accomplished accordion, his unusual compositional sense, plus some excellent realization of guitar parts by Veikki Virkajärvi and precise yet heated drumming from Tatu Rönkkö.

Now I won't even try to tell you what this music sounds like, other than to say it doesn't. The accordion and Harri's composing have the slightest folkish feeling, northern folkishness. There is a melodic bent that makes it sound sometimes like it all would be good in one of those Bergson films or other classic Euro-arty auteur reels. But that is not to say it's background music in any way. It isn't.

It's moody, at times metallic, at other times self-reflexive. The accordion playing alone is worth the price of the ticket. But doing compositional metal too makes it a double-deal, a Dubble-Bubble without the need to break the gum rectangle in two. OK, I've localized and dated myself here. Nonetheless this music stays with you after a while. It's in its own way beautiful. And it lasts longer than a hunk of bubble gum. Much longer.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Dálava, Julia Ulehla, Aram Bajakian

Dálava (Sanasar)? It's a group effort, a most eclectic and unusual combination of Moravian folk songs and New York recombinatory logic. Julia Ulehla prevails on some convincing vocals. Her grandfather collected a good deal of folksongs in the rural Slovácko region of Moravia years ago. The self-titled album is a selection of these songs, arranged for an unusual ensemble of Julia with Tom Swafford and Skye Steele on violins, Shanir Blumenkranz on acoustic bass and Julia's husband Aram Bajakian on electric guitar.

You may think you can imagine what that might sound like, but you could be wrong. It's music that has some avant rock heaviness at times, a new music edge at times and of course the folksiness inherent in the songs. But even then, this isn't something foreordained so much as creatively open and engaging. Some beautiful guitar playing (both metallic and otherwise) and fiddling is to be heard, for example, that you might not expect. And the arrangements are so "downtown" that they will surprise you, even if you think you know "downtown" inside-out.

Julia has singing clout, Aram and the band have a daring approach and when the two combine you get some really rather daring music.

Bajakian has been making some very interesting albums lately (type his name in the search box above) but on this one he, the band, and Julia outdo anything expectable. Startling!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Axel Weiss, Cheryl Pyle, Silent Noise on Saturn

Maybe it's because we are in the thick of the present but it seems to me that there are ever more possibilities in the combination of styles and genres than there were years ago. Noticeably to me, rock has to some extent disengaged itself from the pop parade and taken its place alongside jazz and classical as music more outside the mainstream than previously. You look at the top 20 in pop at any given point now. How many are rock? Much less than 30 years ago. (You might say the same of soul, as compared to hip-hop, but that's another discussion.) So perhaps as a result, there is a continued intermingling of styles happening in all kinds of permutations. I find it interesting.

Turning to today's album we see an example of the confluence of styles. Axel Weiss and Cheryl Pyle join together for Silent Noise on Saturn (Intrinsic Records). Cheryl plays flutes here in her own special way; Axel comes at us with a battery of electric and acoustic guitars plus keys and such.

What's especially interesting to me is the spectrum of styles--from free to jamband to bossa and so forth. Each cut sets up its own world, with Cheryl's beautiful tone and cellular improv phrasings. Axel shows great versatility, driving the music from a rock jamband sound to classical, jazz and folkish modes.

It's mood music for your life. But it has tensile strength and gentleness with content that is substantive. It may not be the masterpiece of the century (how many times is that happening, anyway?) but it floats its way into your ears in a very welcoming way.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dylan Ryan Sand, Circa

The renaissance of power trio progressivity must be with us. There are some killer examples out there these days. One of them surely is drummer Dylan Ryan and his Sand (Dylan Ryan Sand) as can be heard on their latest, Circa (Cuneiform). This is fuse-prog with some lively compositional ideas from Dylan and excellent playing from all three members.

Tim Young lets loose on electric guitar, Devin Hoff is something to hear on bass, and of course Dylan is on drums, playing busily in the heat of things but always remaining focused.

The spectrum of moods is wide, from spacey and gentle to hammering jazz metal. It's a group confluence but you get lots of tasteful and hard-edged playing from everybody. Dylan sees the band's signature strengths as "harmonic openness or simplicity, the dramatic or dynamic shifts, the ensemble passages and especially group unison parts."

And I would add that it is how those factors play out with originality that makes this band an outstanding one. Tim's guitar has a through-looseness that is nearly belied by the significance of the lines and chordal patterns he unleashes. Hoff and Ryan are both engaged in original ways too.

Listen to their version of Keith Jarrett's old groover "Mortgage On My Soul" and you'll get what the band is doing straight-off. But then the originals take you further into the heart of what they are about.

It's an excellent go, an essential power trio album of the year for those who want involved, substantial music that still has an edge. Hear it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Marc Ducret, Tower-Bridge

Jazz guitarist-avant composer Marc Ducret has never been an artist to be taken for granted. His music and ensembles are filled with twists and turns, the unexpected and the worthy. His guitar work is very electric at times and always personal. Given all that, one never knows what is next. But I must admit the scope and intensity of his work with a 12-member band on Tower-Bridge (Ayler 139-140 2-CD) surprised me.

It is surely his most ambitious work to date. The entire double CD set was recorded live with a series of six Ducret compositions that deftly combine freedom and preset compositional form, structure and spontaneous heat.

The band is a well-chosen one. They play the music with in-the-moment ingenuity and drive. In the process they respond well to solo and collective improv opportunities. There are two drummers (Bruun and Rainey) and a percussionist (Lemetre), Antonin Rayon on piano, three trombones (Fourneyron, Mahler, Persigan), Tim Berne on alto sax, Fred Gastard on bass sax, Kasper Tranberg on trumpet, Dominique Pifarely on violin and of course Marc on electric guitar. Very good, excellent players, all. Combined they make for a stunning sonance.

The compositions have linear and cyclical aspects, make full use of the sonic spectrum of the instruments, have complex lines at times and generally make full use of forward time versus suspended time, of open freedom collectively and rock drive.

Beyond this, it comes across as ultra-convincing large ensemble avant jazz for today. There is a good amount of Marc Ducret's special guitar work, but this predominately comes across as a group effort, a triumph of large ensemble modernism.

It is not to be missed, if you are serious about keeping up with what's happening today. This is.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Moraine, Groundswell, with Dennis Rea

For the thinking person, we have fusion-prog rock by Moraine, the Seattle-based outfit headed by electric guitarist-composer Dennis Rea. I believe this is the third album for MoonJune (066) and it most certainly is a strong one with the band very much homogenized into a multistranded unit of adventure with a sound of its own.

Part of that surely has to do with the individual sound palettes of each band member. Alicia DeJoie plays an electrified violin with a beautiful tone and attack that one might say is post-Steve-Goodman in that it transforms a classically trained background into vibrant electric kinetics. In James DeJoie we have an important ingredient to the band's sound, especially with his rich baritone sax but also his agile flute. Kevin Millard plays foundational and virtuoso lines on the SN stick bass. Tom Zgonc drums with fused rock turbulence and drive. And Dennis Rea plays an electric guitar with a special lining ability that is about wonderful note choice and sound texture, using his chops in the service of the musical statements of the moment.

This set has compositions that work well to bring out the special group sound and to rock through with their own brand of fusion. Rea contributes four pieces, Alicia two, James two, plus there are several by names unfamiliar to me but the music all has that post-Sort Machine smarts that set things up for good soloing all around from Alicia, James and Dennis along with some nice ensemble flourishes.

This may well be the most impressive of their albums in terms of a cohesive original group sound. It is a beautiful listen and will be welcomed by all prog-fuse enthusiasts. Dennis remains one of the more important yet relatively unsung fusion guitarist figures out there. The whole band comes through with flying colors. This is band music with a highly original way about it all.

Very recommended.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tal Gur, Under Contractions, with Eyal Maoz

Tal Gur plays alto and soprano sax and composes. His pieces are effective. Tal joins forces with the always interesting guitarist Eyal Maoz, bassist Sam Trapchak and drummer Nick Anderson for the self-released gem of an album, Under Contractions.

Tal excels with outside, mostly quiet lyricism and he shows how that works on the album. Eyal Maoz contributes his sound-sensitive, gritty and sometimes amped-up guitar. As on his own albums, in trios and such, Eyal is a guitarist of quality and stature, inventiveness and leverage. One of the most interesting guitarists today in fact.

The rhythm sections holds its own, providing free-wheeling structures that make this a band in the best way. "Waiting for A Birth", a ballad, succeeds as strikingly well as some of the more up numbers.

Yet throughout there is more than the contemporaneous, there is a group sound that is strong and original.

The guitarist readers will surely dig what Eyal is doing, as will anybody attuned to modern open-form jazz. Tal has a sound of his own, too. And Trapchak gives us some excellent wood in his tone, a nice choice of notes and a perfect running mate for Nick Anderson and his smart drumming.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Group (Il Gruppo), The Feed-Back

When The Mothers of Invention under Frank Zappa came out with their first album, Freak Out, in 1966, it stunned me. The double album included a long cut called "The Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet", which featured a drummer laying down a basic rock beat, over which was a mix resulting from a studio filled with percussion instruments and a group of crazies who laid down a bizarre concatenation of avant-out sounds. Being a young lad at the time it scared me just a little bit. What was this? It was a "freak out", apparently. That's all I knew for sure.

Here we are some 48 years later. I received in the mail recently a CD with a cover I recognized as having a period look. The Feed-Back was (and is) the album title. On the spine of the CD the artists are identified as "The Group" (Schema Records). I listened and danged if it didn't remind me of the "Monster Magnet" Mothers. A drummer lays down various beats, on top of which are some very intricately, collectively improvised out sounds involving guitars, vocals, various instruments and electronic alterations.

I certainly liked what I heard. If anything, it was better than "Monster Magnet" but well within that mode. So I was determined to cover it. Today I looked up the music on the net and it turns out it is the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, the seminal, pioneering avant improvisation ensemble out of Italy and this indeed, as the label indicates, was originally an RCA Italiana LP recording (from 1970). Like the MEV and the AMM they were critically important for the avant live acoustic-electronics improv scene. Members included Frederick Rzewski, Ennio Morricone. Franco Evangelista, Giancarlo Schiaffini, etc., basically improvising composers.

This album never to my knowledge made it into the bins of US record stores or if it did, I must have missed it. On the front cover nowhere does it identify the artists, so who would have known?

Anyway it's a full album of Il Gruppo in a psychedelic freak-out mode! The reissue gives us the music in an excellent digital remastering and all I can say is, if you have the slightest interest in the seminal avant garde outfits of those days, you do not want to miss it. It's wacky but it is serious about it. The band created here an over-the-top psychedelic ambience that is a genuine pleasure and a hoot.

I'll be...!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kalle Kalima and K-18, Bunuel de Jour

Avant cafe folk thrash? I don't know if that quite covers what I hear on guitarist Kalle Kalima & K-18's album Bunuel de Jour (TUM CDE 038), but it's a start. Kalle has done tributes with this band to other seminal film auteurs--Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch (type Kalle's name in the search box for a review of the latter)--and now he and the band turn to the surrealist icon.

The band thrives from a mixture of Kalle's ever-probing skronkish and pre-skronkish guitar, the quartet-tone avant folkisms of accordionist Veli Kujawa, acid-etched alto saxist Mikko Innanen, the ever-present woody sense of bassist Teppo Hauta-Aho, and Kalle's original compositional stance.

The oil and water contrasts of these musicians make the music vibrate and oscillate like a gestalt rabbit-or-vase foreground-background optically moving drawing. The music is this and that in rapid turns, simultaneously, or within a longer time field.

The ensemble sound and the distinctive personalities of the band members make for both a vivid whole and a caustic series of parts. You can profit just by listening to Kalle's guitar work, but it's meant to be a part of the unusual whole. The avant jazz, rock and cosmopolitan urban folk qualities intermingle in ways that intrigue and keep your attention from flagging.

Hear this one and you'll be challenged and pleasured all at once. Worth your ear-time for sure.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bombay Rickey, Cinefonia

The music of Bollywood over time has done perhaps what no other music could get away with so consistently. That is, in the interest of the movie soundtrack world, succeeded in combining not only East and West, but everything with everything else, musically speaking. Bombay Rickey celebrates that Bollywood, an eclectic, sometimes brilliant and always vibrant amalgamism. Then it sends it even further over the top. Cinefonia (Cowboys and Indian CI-1) is the looniest fusion music one is likely ever to hear; yet it works.

Bombay Rickey is Kamala Sankaram's brilliant vocalizing (and accordion playing) with Drew Fleming on guitar and voice, and Jeff Hudgins on reeds, voice and keys, with a backing band. They take the Bollywood premise that "everything potentially goes with everything else" and take it to the max. Cowboy music, Indian, coloratura soprano opera, surf, Latin, funk, rock, fusion and anything else you can imagine come together in funny but really compelling ways.

The guitar playing is at the forefront along with Kamala's exceptional vocalizing and the rest is rather ingenious arranging-composing that manages to piece together things you can't imagine being part of one thing.

It is one hell of a hoot! If you can imagine it, you'll probably like it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Jim Pembroke, If the Rain Comes

Jim Pembroke has the singer-songwriter vibe from an earlier era. He writes genuine songs with lyrics that reflect his life. He made the album If the Rain Comes (TUM 007) with his old friend Hennik Otto Donner, who produced it and wrote the string and horn arrangements. Then Otto passed away not long after. Jim and his band preside, and dedicate the album to Otto's memory.

There are eleven tunes of note. "When the Rain Comes", the title cut, starts out sounding much like the Beatles "Rain", then veers off in its own effective way. The rest of the tunes have their own special quality. Otto's arrangements are excellent, Jim sings in his own sort of style, singer-songwriter style. Jukka Orma plays some nice guitar here and there.

It's an album that has accessibility and just a touch of the hand-crafted weirdness of earlier times. It's not by rote. It at once sounds familiar in its periodicity, yet new.

The TUM label in Finland put it out and its production values are excellent. I find it engaging, tuneful but not cookie-cutter.

If you go for rock singing-songwriting of quality and nice arrangements of same, this may appeal. I like it myself.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bill MacKay & Matt Lux, December Concert

Though I no longer live in Chicago and have not for quite a while, I still follow and appreciate the vibrant jazz and blues scene that Chi-town embodies. Another example is before us today in an extended 30-minute EP of electric guitar and electric bass duets by Bill MacKay and Matt Lux, respectively, entitled December Concert (Ears & Eyes).

The music has a primality that loosely puts it in a sort of raga-rockish modality. They stay in a pitch-centered zone and develop compositional-improvisational moods and pulsations that have a retro-transformed appeal. MacKay comes up with inventive figures, both chordal and line-building aspects that are well seconded by Lux's electric bass. It sounds a little like what a psychedelic band might do in the classic era if the rest of the band dropped out for a half-hour. Of course that rarely happened if at all, but you have to imagine.

There is counterpoint and modal ingenuity to be heard here, all of which is pleasing. I would love to hear the two do something similar with drums and a second guitar or keys. Perhaps they will. But the openness of the duet format gives them leverage to go places that the presence of a full band might inhibit.

There is a refreshing change for one segment when Bill switches to the requinto, a smaller, higher pitched guitar used for traditional folk music in Spain and Mexico especially.

The open form format gives the two plenty of freedom and they take advantage by weaving webs of both latent and full-blown psychedelia.

It maintained my interest in an inventive way. If you are into the zoner free space that the Dead traditionally opened up often enough as part of their live shows, you will definitely resonate with this, I would think.

An adventure.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ross Martin, Max Johnson, Jeff Davis, Big Eyed Rabbit

Something different? I mean very unexpected? That would be Ross Martin (guitar), Max Johnson (bass) and Jeff Davis (drums) and their Big Eyed Rabbit (NotTwo). It takes traditional fiddle tunes as a starting point and proceeds to transmute them in a free-avant-electric alchemy into a new kind of gold.

There are originals as well as traditional ditties. You must listen closely for the fiddle-tune sub-basement foundation to emerge, but it is there intermittently.

Turns out Ross Martin's inventive guitar thrust, Max Johnson's double bass creative ingenuity and the always hip drumming of Jeff Davis combine for a potent threesome. They work nicely together but at the same time make individual, continually original improvisatory contributions throughout.

Martin has technique and a free-jazzy in-the-pocket flair of his own. It goes well with Max Johnson's out-front all-over bass sanity-madness, here with more of a folksy feel than is ordinary. That works just fine. And Jeff is doing exactly what he does well, stretching time and giving the music motion in a melodic way.

Max and Ross are artists to listen to these days. Jeff, too. This is a great place to hear all three in an inspired mood.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Flametet, A General History of Flame

Flametet is a quintet (plus drummer) led by bassist and composer Kit Demos. We take a look today at their album A General History of Flame (Glitch Records 002). They seem to be Boston based.

The album delivers up 12 bracing slices of avant modern jazz composition-performance, freely realized with looseness and improvisatory eloquence by the quintet, an interesting combination of players and sound coloring. Kit Demos appears on both double bass and electric bass guitar as well as synthesizer, Jeff Platz plays electric guitar, sometimes modified by ring modulator, Charlie Kohlhase gets with the tenor and baritone, Tod Brunel is on bass clarinet and clarinet, and Pandelis Karayorgis plays the Wurlitzer electric piano, sometimes with wah-wah. There is a drummer present on the date and he sounds good. For some reason he is not named.

The combined electric and acoustic sounds of the band give us a vivid soundstage. Every player comes through with distinctive sounds, collective and individual soloing of note, and an ensemble sound of their very own.

The album toggles between composition, collective improv and soloing with ease. It is a relaxed date that puts everything in a worthy light. Though perhaps deceptively casual, it is free music of importance, with bass playing that comes through along with the other instruments as altogether contributive to what's new out there in avant jazz.

You should hear this!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Eric Revis Quartet, In Memory of Things Yet Seen

Bassist-composer-bandleader Eric Revis fields a quartet of note on In Memory of Things Yet Seen (Clean Feed 294). The music is distinguished by Eric's beautiful writing for the reeds, the interplay of fire and acute interactivity with Bill McHenry on tenor, Darius Jones on alto and, for two cuts, Branford Marsalis, the excellent drumming (and effective vibes) of Chad Taylor and, understandably, some excellent bass work from Eric.

The compositions set the bar high. They are very memorable and come back at you the more you listen. At the same time the band is primed and lucid, inspired by the numbers to get a fresh foothold on freedom-within-structure, new thing newly thinged. Darius Jones has been knocking me out lately and here he does again. But then Bill is no slouch, either. Branford is a welcome presence as guest to make it a pretty heavy three-horn front line.

I must say this disk rewards in great measure. It has everything going for it and sounds so today that it does one a heartening. This is the music of today!

Very recommended.