Monday, February 29, 2016

Craw, 1993-1997

The world of avant rock sometimes seems like a party, or maybe a movie, that I had to leave in the middle of and came back a while later and...well OK, where has it gone while I was away?

The band Craw is maybe a good example. I have been listening to the three-CD compilation of their music 1993-1997 (Northern Spy NS070). It is a guitars-bass-drums-vocals band that I have not had the pleasure to hear much of until now. Wiki tells me "they belonged to the harder-edged branch of the math rock or post-hardcore movement." From Cleveland. Broke up around 2002?

OK, the categories mean nothing much to me. But hearing this three-CD set, which appears to be their first three albums, tells me they are on terrain I recognize. It is elaborate hard-core post-punk/post-metal. They start as a band that sound very manic and hyper, but somewhat familiar. By the third album they are completely onto something their own.

The "math rock" element, I get it, has to do with the complex coordinated segmentation of time they mastered. Much of it has an incredibly driving block-power sound that is strikingly asymmetrical.

You can hear the progression clearly. By the time of the third CD (Map, Monitor, Surge 1997) they have become an avant powerhouse wholly their own. The first two disk-albums give us the process and in themselves are fascinating to hear and livelier than some may wish--very edgy, extreme hard aggression, in other words. By the third album they are still edgy in the extreme, but have a tightness and total mastery on the domain they rightly claim as their own.

This music is not for the faint at heart, to say the very least. But it is fascinating, moving, hard-hitting and I would say an essential listen for anyone serious about the avant extremes of art rock and its development. Whew!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Thinking Plague, In This Life

There are some bands so different and original that I find myself pausing. What to say? To start, we have today a reissue of the 1988-89 art-rocking album In This Life (Cuneiform Rune 407) by Thinking Plague, remastered and reissued on its 25th anniversary.

The band grabbed some underground attention with the album at the time. It was released in 1989 on Henry Cow's/Chris Cutler's Recommended Records as the band's third, part of the art-prog-post-rock-in-opposition movement. I missed it then, but hearing it today it gives you a timeless artfulness that most definitely sounds as fresh as ever.

The Denver-based outfit features for this disk Mike Johnson's wiry and very unusual compositions and the vocal tang and lyrics of Susanne Lewis for a standout set that sounds like nothing before or since, truly. Fred Frith makes a guest appearance on guitar but otherwise this is has electric and acoustic instrumentation and orchestration that does not classify so easily because it is so original.

It is song-form oriented with some very elaborate instrumental parts. I cannot say what it sounds like, because it sounds like nothing else. There are reed-guitar-key combinations that are uncanny, there are some ethnic-minimalist percussion and electronics, there is so much not easily described that I am afraid the hearing cannot be readily replaced by words--and that is pretty much one of the highest compliments one can give. When words fail, you KNOW something good is up. Or the very opposite. Here it is a matter of innovative excellence.

They are apparently working on a new album for Cuneiform. That will be something I'll look forward to. In the interim we have In This Life! Get it! Wow!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dave Anderson's Blue Innuendo

To get to it straight off, this is NOT a guitarist's album. So why am I posting it on this blog? Because it is a very together organ band headed by a very together tenor man, and as that it is a model for such things today, the guitarist's role being played to perfection, as is the role of the organist, the drummer, and...of course the tenor.

Dave Anderson is the tenor (and soprano) man in question. He leads the band through a set of hiply swinging originals on Blue Innuendo (Label 1 2003-2). This is music rooted in the toughness of hard bop, yet fully modern in its tang of the beyond. It is no accident that Dave dedicates one of the numbers to Joe Henderson, for there is some of that sophisticated, hard-driving facility going on here, plus Dave himself showing his own way through nicely.

Dave Anderson sounds great, with plenty to say on both horns and a way of saying it that channels sax soulfulness and a true sense of what matters, yesterday and today.

Pat Bianchi on organ is a model for the extensions of organ bop-soul into now. He makes me smile as he always seems to. Tom Guarna, the guitarist, has a perfect presence in the ensemble and solos with authority. He also in his own way channels bop-and-after giants yet sounds original and contemporary.

Matt Wilson on drums comes through as he ever does as the swinging giant so necessary for the success of this kind of thing.

It's a model for how the organ-band roots can be enacted but with the modern complexities brought to the fore at the same time. A blazer, a hip disk is this! Hear it.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Permanent Clear Light, Corneville Skyline

Permanent Clear Light I have posted on at length on these pages. It is no fluke as I consider the Finnish band the best neo-psychedelic song-oriented unit out there, the best thing since the XTC came at us in the guise of the Dukes of Stratosphear.

Permanent Clear Light is getting ready to release its new album this year. As a taste of that last December they came out with a single, "Corneville Skyline." It was released on a 7" vinyl slab named Friend of the Fish (Fruits de Mer), backed with Ex Norwegian's "It's A Game." Only 50 copies were pressed, so I guess there is no way of getting that--but I believe you can still find "Corneville" one way or another if you do a little Googling around.

I have not heard the Ex Norwegian tune but "Corneville" is everything you would expect from Permanent Clear Light. It is a song that of course could have come out back in 1967 or 1968. The psychedelic Beatles, early Floyd and any manner of other folks come to mind, yet this is NEW music. The arrangement has that spacy voluminousness of the classic era, a blend of what sounds like cello, guitar and the band at large, really just right, totally authentic but totally right now as well.

It's a great song and it only makes me look forward to the new album. Oh, I just realized, you can hear both cuts via a You Tune link. Copy and past this into your browser window

It presages much good to come in the album. It is in itself a gas!!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Terrence McManus and John Hebert, Saints & Sinners

It is a treat to hear Terrence McManus on electric guitar and John Hebert on bass for a full album of duets. The album, Saints and Sinners (Rowhouse Music ROW01), captures a free-wheeling session of the two dating from 2010 but just recently released.

It gives you plenty of space to hear the freely creative twosome in a very inventive light. John Hebert is well-known out there as a bassist of power and imagination. We don't get a lot of him in such an exposed playing environment, and that is even more true of Terrence McManus.

It turns out that they were fully primed to get rolling on that recording date. The open-form possibilities are very nicely unveiled for this set. A tumbling, percussive/legato freedom comes into play and prevails throughout.

McManus reveals his considerably evolved outside lining, chording and sound-color sculpting prowess against a consistently invigorating backdrop of Hebert giving out with asymmetrical phrases that tumble forward to create a melodic-harmonic context advanced, swinging and well-thought out in the most spontaneous ways.

The two together let their creative intuitions flow for a full set. It is a refreshing result, two accomplished free improvisers getting maximum torque from the chemistry of the interactions.

We perhaps know Hebert's formidable capabilities, but then McManus comes through here as well to establish his own far-ranging imagination and an electric sound burnished yet cutting as needed.

This is high-powered invention, a duet that never flags and goes to a variety of interesting musical spaces.

A nice one!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gary Lucas' Fleischerei, Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons, Featuring Sarah Stiles

Like the irrepressibly creative guitarmaster-bandleader-conceptualist Gary Lucas, my most vivid early television memories involve the daily afternoon program devoted to the old Popeye cartoons. They spoke to me without fail, though having nothing very much to compare them with at the time I did not appreciate the inimitable pacing and surrealism they embodied. Around the same time I watched Betty Boop cartoons with glee, on another station, I believe the old Metromedia Channel 5, but who can be sure? In the end, much later, I came to understand how special these Max Fleischer cartoons were from an artistic point of view. But the immediacy and peculiarly hyper quality of them still hits me directly when I watch again so many years later.

Gary Lucas has been at the forefront of creating music that references and interacts with film, as anyone who follows his career knows. So when I heard that he had the idea of devoting a tribute album to the music on the Fleischer cartoons I was not surprised but also filled with anticipation.

The album is just out, Gary Lucas' Fleischerei and Music from Max Fleischer Cartoons (Cuneiform). Its birth was a somewhat complex affair, involving a convergence of Gary working out guitar arrangements on his old Gibson acoustic and Joe Fiedler working out through-arranged complements for the ensemble of himself on trombone, Jeff Lederer on winds, Michael Bates on bass, and Rob Garcia on drums. The key component to it all, the lynchpin, is provided by Sarah Stiles in her uncanny vocal personifications of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl.

There are twelve musical numbers represented on the album, including the complete music and dialog from the Popeye cartoon "Beware of Barnacle Bill."

The liners describe the madcap fusion of jungle jazz, broadway ditties, klezmer and Yiddish theater elements that went into the music from those cartoons, a microcosm of New York in the '30s but put together in incredibly zany and eccentric ways. It was a formative influence on my ears and I remember virtually all of the originals. I was just one of millions of kids (and adults) who entered this world and came away permanently changed. So what better than a Gary Lucas take on the music?

Like all projects of this sort the outcome could go either way. There was such a special quality about the originals. Could they be recreated? The answer is yes, emphatically, and in the doing the album is a furthering. Gary's guitar arrangements are stunning (listen to "Little Pal") in ways that only Gary can pull off, the band arrangements get to the hot jazz-Yiddish nexus with gusto and verve, and I'll be d'd if Sarah Stiles does not get to the essence of classic Boop and Oyl and somehow does it with real style and verve.

My partner, who grew up just like me (only halfway across the world) watching these cartoons, reacted just as I did from the first listen. "Now this is my kind of music," to quote her. I feel the same way. It is a heartfelt tribute, yes, yet it stands on its own as re-creative whole! A hoot! Beautiful!

OK, so you want to hear a sample? Here's a cut from the album courtesy of the label: My live link feature is on the fritz again so you will need to copy the link and paste it in your browser. Also check out a cool live video at

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Allman Brothers Band: After the Crash, DVD

I covered the DVD documentary Song of the South: Duane Allman and the Rise of the Allman Brothers Band on these pages some time ago (type title into search box for that review). Now we have the sequel, The Allman Brothers Band: After the Crash (Sexy Intellectual DVD 585), which covers the band and its ups and downs after the tragic death of Duane.

Around 1971-2 many musicians I knew who were into an electric improvisational thing revered the Miles Davis electric bands then leading the way along with Mwandishi and a few select others firmly in the "jazz" camp. But many also revered the Dead, the Mothers and the Allman Brothers Band as parallel innovators in the rock world. Time passed and ultimately on the rock side the Dead and the Allmans managed to survive and resurge as part of what later became known as "jamband." But it was not at all clear then that they would last. On a good night either band could further the music and draw a large concert following, but it wasn't always that way, especially in the Allman's case.

This documentary DVD gives us a very decent, enlightened chronology of what happened to the band over those years. The almost miraculous recovery of the band with Dickie Best and Greg Allman presiding with strong songs and vibrant solo work is documented on the DVD with live footage, interviews and narrative.

There was a gradual decline in the band on an artistic level and waning popularity as Greg became estranged from his bandmates via a long relationship with Cher, a pronounced addiction problem and a controversial legal situation that involved Greg providing evidence against his personal assistant in return for immunity. Plus by the eighties, as the documentary makes clear, the guitar solo-oriented rock-jam sound hit an absolute nadir. Nobody wanted a "jamband" to fill their ears, blues had gone out of style, fusion and electricity were passe, etc.

The DVD does a fine job documenting those low points. They then cover in some depth the resurgence of the band, the discovery of young Maestro Trucks as guitarist following in Duane's footsteps and their subsequent rediscovery by a new generation.

Perhaps even more time could have been devoted to their latest period but there is enough the complete the narrative, surely. And their place in the jamband resurgence might have been made more detailed.

Nonetheless in all we have a fine two-hour documentary that will be manna for Allman fans and also enlightening for rock history buffs of a more general sort. It certainly kept my attention and gave me the big picture of developments that I never had the full scope on until seeing this. Well done!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Fred Frith, Darren Johnston, Everybody/s Somebody/s Nobody

We greet this day with a nicely put-together duet album of Fred Frith's guitar and Darren Johnston's trumpet on Everybody/s Somebody/s Nobody (Clean Feed 357). Johnston will be familiar to many for his trumpet and compositional stance, especially on the West Coast but also in Chicago. My blogs have encountered him frequently enough and nicely so. Fred Frith many will know as one of the premiere avant electric guitarists today, who can be counted upon to come through with excellent work whether on the avant rock or the jazz-improv sides of things.

The duet album integrates horizontal, subtle periodicity grooves with "modal" leanings and a bit of rock strength with more outside excursions, showing the fine structural sense of the two as spontaneous improvisers and compositionally oriented notemasters.

Eleven pieces have their say in a wide universe of substyles. They show the versatility and command of the two players and in the process give us all a fine listening experience.

These two are gold. And they really connect. Find out how by giving the album a close listen! Outstanding!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

J. Peter Schwalm, The Beauty of Disaster

Contemporary music these days is like an open book. Every page offers you something potentially different and new, yet connected in a zeitgeist of what is in the air right now. Something of that uniqueness within a constantly shifting matrix can be heard very nicely on the recent album of ambient avant electrics by German composer J. Peter Schwalm. The album is entitled The Beauty of Disaster (rarenoise 059 CD or LP).

Peter plays a myriad of instruments and makes of the studio his working canvas, playing guitars, pianos, electronic devices, drums and synths. Joining him at various points are guest artists on violas, guitars, bass, drums, pump organ and grand piano.

All that is the HOW, but it is the WHAT that makes this music stand out. Schwalm gives us an intricate universe of amassed sonics that revels in the totality of the blend. In ten segments we get a great deal to contemplate.

It is a space-orchestral ambiance built up of cavernous, resonating acoustics. Each segment comes to our ears as a marvelously totalized aspect of space-tronics. The vividly depictive sound mode constructions have their say with acutely singular spatial presence and then make way for a contrasting new sound episode.

This is not so much a music of instrumental virtuosity as it is an electronic orchestral tapestry of shifting elements that have some relationship to psychedelics and trance minimalism, soundscaping and present day electro-acoustics.

What makes it especially fine is Schwalm's sensitive unfolding of the sound palette possibilities. It is cosmic music in the grand tradition and a great example of how that can sound today.

Kudos! Space cadets don your interplanetary traveling suits and get ready for a lively journey!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Zusha, Kavana

Hasidic reggae? Well, yes. Zusha does this on their CD Kavana (self released). It is an artful adaptation of Hasidic vocal style into a contemporary world. Shlomo Gaisin nicely handles the lead vocals, Zach Goldschmiedt is on acoustic guitar and vocals, and then Elisha Mlotek is on percussion and vocals. Add to that a very full band, courtesy of Mason Jar Music, turn on the recorders, and you have something very special.

This I believe is their second album. It proceeds from the idea that prayer is meaningless without "kavana," which translates roughly as "intent." This then is music of intent.

And it is quite entrancing in its ready injection of deep roots into a contemporary sound. To me that is very New York and something that makes the creative ambiance of the metropolis so productive--the continual intermingling of diverse roots in an unending creative conflation.

The melodies may be part traditional (I don't know enough of the Hasidic repertoire to say, though some sound familiar) but they come across in their wordless three-part harmonies as infectious, sincere, and compelling, and very timely in their universality of intent.

I am nearly at a loss for words except to say that this is magical music. It rings out artfully and convincingly. If you are open to something new in something old that speaks to us with an open heart, this one is for you.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded, Routes

Dave Stryker (guitar) and Steve Slagle (alto, soprano. flute) have been making music together for a long time now. (See the May 31, 2010 posting on this blog for an example.) They come at us with a new, larger grouping on the Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded album Routes (Strikezone 883). It's of course Stryker and Slagle with Gerland Cannon on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums, plus horn virtuoso John Clark, and, for two numbers the tenor and bass clarinet of Billy Drews, for two numbers the trombone and tuba of Clark Gayton, and for three numbers the piano and Rhodes of Bill O'Connell.

The added girth gives them the chance to craft some fuller arrangements of original compositions along with a very nice version of Mingus' "Self-Portrait in Three Colors."

The added sound colors give depth to the music and primarily serve to set off the very formidable mainstream soloing clout of Styker's guitar and Slagle's alto. The rhythm section churns into swinging territory as you would expect while the co-leaders burn with some of their finest solo work. O'Connell gets some profitable solo time, too, as do others and nicely so.

It's the sort of album that carries on the hard bop and beyond roots of the music naturally and un-selfconsciously. And the arrangements are hiply lush.

It shows us that Dave Styker and Steve Slagle still have much to say and they go ahead and SAY it on this new one. It bubbles over with heated goodness and manages to find something new within the centered contemporary jazz tradition. Nice!

Friday, February 5, 2016

Jus, Jacob Lindsay, Ava Mendoza, Damon Smith, Weasel Walter, 2007

We go back a few years to 2007. Remember then? Well, whether you do or not doesn't matter, especially, for now, because at the moment what concerns us is the album recorded that year, Jus (bpa013). It is a confluent gathering, a quartet featuring Jacob Lindsay on all manner of clarinets, Ava Mendoza on electric guitar, Damon Smith on "7-string ergo-bass" and something called a "Hoopp", and Weasel Walter on drums, percussion and bagpipes.

Now what makes this one interesting is the consistently out, pointillated, pin-point surgical entrance of sound structures in space. The sound colors are extraordinarily fertile and evocative. This is improv with a new music kind of slant, operating within the "tradition" of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, say, or MEV, in other words abstracted and cumulative, four-way just about all the time, continuous and creatively inventive.

It's not a music where you say to yourself, "Wow, Listen to that bass clarinet!" so much as you experience sonic wholes made up of the ingenious contributions of all four in out counterpoint.

Everyone is key most all the time, so it is not a music where you single out foreground from background. It is simply music that occupies pan-ground if you please.

There is most interesting bass and guitar work as a part of the whole, so I place the write up on this blog, but the reed and percussion contributions are no less interesting or important.

An hour of this, thanks to the insightful sound sculpting consistently present, does not seem at all taxing, assuming you already understand the outside lanes of getting to music. It fascinates, enthralls and refuses to abandon the rarefied realms it occupies, but instead generates ever new combinations of timbre and texture.

So the music succeeds in so doing. This is not something "easy to do" well. Do not fool yourself. Sit down with three others and try to get to this level. You doubtless will find it is not easy to be both self-ful and selfless with three others. Jus, then, is an achievement, a critical outing on the outer fringes that does what it does with a certain brilliance. It's a good example of a great result in this sphere. Put your ears on deep-listening mode and you will get much from this.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Flow State, Where the Sky Meets the Earth

Flow State features the compositions and electric guitar of Ben Brody with a quintet. The album Where the Sky Meets the Earth (benbrodymusic) gives us four pieces to hear and appreciate.

The first thing one notices with the quintet is the absence of a drummer. There is pulse as a constant, and electronics (not beats per se) or instruments sometimes play a percussive role. But it is the musical voicings that stand out all the more for not being drum accompanied, and they are consistently interesting.

The instrumentation is not typical. There is the electric guitar of Brody, plus electric and double bass (Nick Lenchner), electric keys (Jonathan Evers), alto sax (Alison Shearer) and tenor sax (Noah Dreiblatt).

This is electro-prog compositional, jazz-inflected music of great interest. The saxes sometimes freely improvise atop a compositional set of motifs. Other times there is an ensemble sound that has a relationship with some of the '70s-'80s electro prog outfits but is well evolved and complex in ways that stand apart from those roots. Sometimes one is reminded of middle-period Soft Machine in the mesmeric qualities, but again, there are pronounced originalities here that serve to distingush this music from that realm.

It is an ensemble music, so Ben Brody generally is an element in the blend more than a soloist. Nonetheless his sound is a vital part of the mix, especially in the droning psychedelic breadth of "I am Become Death."

If this album stands out as a peculiar musical statement, it is because it comes at you originally and electrically as a music unto itself. It is slghtly avant edgy, but not typically so. It is cosmic but not in a derivative way.

And in the end you are treated to some very energizing music that is rather beyond category. Nice!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Trio Da Paz, 30

When a guitar-bass-drums trio manages to stay together over 30 years, it is an accomplishment. There are good reasons, always, why this might be so. Musical and personal compatibility, sure, and if they have been able to capture the spotlight this long, artistic reasons as well.

So that most certainly is the case with the Brazilian samba-jazz juggernaught Trio Da Paz. Their new CD 30 (Zoho 201602), celebrates the long-lived union with an album of exemplary music. Duduka da Fonseca, the renowned and exemplary drummer, is here, along with Brazilian nylon-stringed guitar wizard Romero Lubambo and the very musical bassist Nilson Matta.

With the exception of the Baden Powell evergreen "Samba Triste" the program consists entirely of originals by the band members. They satisfy as you would expect, but the dynamic and very well burnished trio improvisational ways are what makes for a remarkable listen.

Romero is a Brazilian-jazz guitarist of the highest rank. He takes the rhythmic-chordal style so important to samba and makes of it something outstanding, personal and beautiful. His general linear sense makes of him a veritable icon. All that is plain to hear on this album. But then outstanding as well is how the triumvirate mesh together at all points. Matta's bass playing gains critical mass in this ensemble and he functions as the all important pivotal key between the beautifully inventive rhythmic presence of da Fonseca and the harmonic-tonal-rhythmic counterthrusts of Lubambo.

In all this album could serve as a primer for anyone who seeks to absorb the very subtle interplay of a jazz samba trio today. Time, tone and timbre come together for a truly inspired set from the very best. Can I suggest you grab this one? Very recommended!