Friday, May 27, 2016

Eric Revis Trio, Crowded Solitudes

New albums by bassist Eric Revis have become something of an occasion to me. The latest gives us a fabulous trio effort of Eric with pianist Kris Davis and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Crowded Solitudes (Clean Feed 363) is a smartly burning set that brings out the best in Eric with plenty of full blown expressive thrust, some whip-crackingly precise yet vastly expressive, soulfully out Kris Davis, and a roll-and-tumble propulsion and dynamic energy from Gerald Cleaver.

A young Rio Sebastian Revis gives us a very musical speech statement which sounds almost Chinese and serves as the compositional impetus for the fascinating "Bontain." We get some collectively devised pieces, a few by Revis alone, one by Paul Motian (RIP) you may well recognize and yet another by Greg Osby.

The threesome are on a roll throughout, everybody pulling much weight and punching out with a determined brilliance--to mix metaphors. Davis reminds us how central she is now, but so do Eric and Gerald.

This is determined collective-self-music of a beautiful edginess. A fantastic set.

Hear it. Get it. And you will no doubt get it and get with it. I am not kidding!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Alex Goodman, Border Crossing

What does one say after one has said everything? I don't know, since I have NOT said everything and no doubt never quite will. On the other hand one (or me anyway) has the challenge to remain fresh, to cover music 15 times a week and say something worthwhile about it all. When the music is good, as generally it is or I would not cover it on these pages, it suggests words to you as you hear it. That is so with the album of Canadian guitar jazz by Alex Goodman, Border Crossing (OA2 Records 22131).

This is some very accomplished and beautifully serene music that owes something to Brazilian saudade classics, yet clearly is in the contemporary northern jazz camp. Alex shines forth on electric and acoustic guitar in a program of originals plus an adaptation of something by Mozart and a standard by Bricusse and Newman  ("Pure Imagination").

Key to all this are the nicely expressive vocals of Felicity Williams, who gives us wordless ensemble vocals and well wrought phrasings of the song fare here. Key also is the vibraphone work of Michael Davidson, whose sound and approach permeates the ensemble sound and gives it distinction. Andrew Downing adds color and bottom on cello and bass; Rogerio Boccato plays some appropriate percussion and drummer Fabio Ragnelli brings his drumming prowess into three of the seven numbers.

Throughout Alex plays interesting guitar that shows facility and an original sense of taste, laid back but substantial.

In many ways Felicity steals the show with a clear and pure-toned post-Gilberto clarion tenderness that sets the mood and makes Alex's guitar entrances all the more dramatic.

It is one of those albums that is filled with musical content for the sharp ears out there, yet will please lots of folks who are less exacting.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Michael Bisio & Kirk Knuffke, Row for William O.

Some albums jump right out at you from the very first notes and keep it up without the least bit of lag. That is certainly the case with Michael Bisio & Kirk Knuffke's Row for William O. (Relative Pitch RPR 1043). It is Kirk on cornet and Michael on bass with some beautiful synergies between composed and improvised lines, just the two in exceptional form, sounding free and modern as hell and as accomplished as anything you'd expect from them, maybe even more so!

The album is dedicated to the seminal clarinetist-educator William O. (Bill) Smith, with whom Michael was closely associated in the Seattle days. Now I read recently on social media (and I am writing from memory so I hope I get it right) that the title refers to a 12-tone row Smith once suggested based on the melody of "I Got Rhythm"! The idea was that (12-tone) modernism could be warm and familiar, that it need not sound like it came out of a laboratory. So this music has something to do with all that and we can hear it with Smith's "Drago," which opens the album, and in Michael's title work, but also throughout! The music soars and it is not necessary (though interesting) to absorb the full implications of William's thought, though the fact that you don't is exactly what he had in mind!. Anyway, from there follows three more Bisio compositions and a joint Bisio-Knuffke number.

There is an advanced melodic quality in both the compositions and the improvisations. Everything has both freedom and structure, so much so that the seamlessness of the inspired improvisations sound as compositional as the compositions.

Michael gets plenty of space for some very brilliant bass improvisations, some of his most advanced, which is saying a great deal. He gives you lots of hands-down reasons why he is at the top of the bass improv world here and it is breathtaking.

But then Kirk sounds fabulous as well, with beautifully expressive tone and some ear-grabbing phrases that go marvelously well with what Michael is unravelling throughout.

I am hard pressed to think of a more successful piece of artistry for trumpet-bass duet. It is that good. These two are striking musical gold, no matter where you find yourself in the set. It mad!

Can I suggest to you that you must not miss this one? It is the art of ultra-modern jazz at a peak. William O. Smith has been feted here with an ideal homage. Damn!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Vibrating Universe, Birth of Truth

I take today's post to expound on the virtues of a local New Jersey group, Vibrating Universe. They were kind enough to send me their new double-CD Birth of Truth (self released). It is wall-of-sound post-prog rock with very nice guitar work by Derrick Klybish (who plays bass as well), concept and lyrics by David Pardine and all vocals divided between him and brother Brian, with Brian on keys. Both are also jointly responsible for the music writing. Derek Schildkraut holds up the rhythmic end nicely as the drummer.

It is a sort of cosmic-themed progressivity. Sometimes the melody lines are direct and essentialist, almost chant-like in their single-minded thrust. At other times they are filled with multiple parts and/or harmonic richness. There is something distinctive going on in any case. And the lyrics are searching and space-directed in ways that complement the musical spaciousness that is a hallmark of this group on this their extended sojourn. The vocals are generally very full--with multiple voices hitting the senses strongly, contrasting and layering nicely with the full-bore instrumental density.

I will not say that this sounds like a present-day equivalent of classic Moody Blues sides because the sound is not the same, but the intent to send the listener into an experiential orbit is nonetheless there like the Moodys at their peak.

But no, it does not sound retro or dated so much as it partakes in an outward-bound thrust in common with early classic prog, only it does so on its own terms. I understand from the band that they took no little effort and time to get the sound just right, and it most certainly shows.

There are no dead spots or fillers in this involved two-CD presentation. Far from it. All lays out very well and originally, lyrically, cosmically.

I do recommend this for those who seek spacy-lyrical song fare of a decidedly original sort. Bravo!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Harvey Valdes Trio, PointCounterPoint

Guitarist Harvey Valdes brings to us a vibrantly iconoclastic trio outing on PointCounterPoint (self-released). The unusual and well articulated instrumentation is Harvey on electric guitar, Sana Nagana on violin and Joe Hertenstein on drums. Each contributes much to the totality, which is a sort of avant jazz rock with pronounced rhythmic presence and odd or shifting meters that are foregrounded by Joe's definitive drumming. The melodic interplay between Harvey and Sana is most unusual, modern in its chromatic expansiveness, ever-shifting and evolving with the two melodic lines intertwining and allowing space for soloistic improv flourishes.

It follows very original post-fusion advanced form with remarkable consistency and some highly unusual ways that unwind with excellence and give Harvey the chance to show a special solo weight both unusual and with an undeniable logic and brilliance. But then Sana is in there too with counterlines of real worth.

It is the kind of music that states its own case, not bending to an assimilation of the typical, but holding its own in exciting ways.

It is of considerable interest from a compositional standpoint but also gives us some wonderful guitar, violin and drum work in the process.

It is something you must check out if you want something new and very out-of-the-ordinary. Oh, no, I do not exaggerate. This is beautifully new!! Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Charlie Ballantine, Providence

Some albums just lay out naturally and speak to us without holding back but also with a kind of natural directness. That is so of electric guitarist Charlie Ballantine's album Providence (self-released). It's a set of (mostly?) originals that set Charlie's bluesy-folksy electric guitar against a nicely put-together group with Amanda Gardner on alto, Josh Espinosa on organ, Conner Green on bass and Josh Roberts on drums.

There is a sort of country-pie rural flavor to the music that might remind you a little of early Pat Metheny but not exactly. Charlie solos nicely in a very laid-back way that is not out to wow you with chops though there is evidence of all that. No, he wants to build moody, bluesy edifices of sound, to capture a shifting dynamic that puts forward its particular, relaxed, local kind of significant approach.

It's a sort of music that decidedly is more rock-jazzish than smooth, that floats into your listening mind without a lot of sweat and struggle, and so should appeal to a broad swath of audiences without sacrificing artistic merit.

I like it. It just hangs there for you like a good painting. It does not go out of its way to call attention to itself, yet it is there to examine in some detail should you be so inclined. It's mood music for mood music more than some stated activity. And it pleases without pandering.

Shoot it on and you'll find yourself drifting in a very nice way.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Electric Suite

When in the course of the many submissions I receive as part of my blog writing I get something in the realm of the totally unknown it is not in itself unusual. But when the artists "prefer to remain anonymous," as the guy in that very old show "The Millionaire" did (showing my age again?), it is pretty unusual. Who would not want their names emblazoned on their CD? Well, no matter. Today we have "a post-rock duo playing a rough, loud, tense and minimal sound. A Bass and a singer performing electric tracks colored with a subtle and sophisticated darkness," to quote the front cover. Well, yes, that's so and in the end the music communicates fully even if we only know this outfit by the title of the EP CD, The Electric Suite (self-released).

Put expectations aside and open your ears as I did. In the end we get six songs, hard-hitting mostly, with the electric bass played with zeal and a guitar-like fullness, quite nicely really. The singer counterpart is a woman who sounds like herself, poetic, declamatory, dedicated to a certain intensity that matches the bass playing.

After you listen a couple of times it makes very much sense as a unique and creative duo effort with the intensity of avant rock but yes, post-rock, in that it does not follow any formulas that a typical rock outing might.

We get some pretty intense bass plying and a sung poetry that places it all in the contemporary underground, and all the better for us, as it does so in ways that will reward those who open up to it.

And in the end this is music that is the opposite of anonymous, in that it is very personal and original. It is, after all, the music of "The Electric Suite." And they are definitely onto something.

PS: After I posted this I received some additional info on the group from a most reliable source:
The Electric Suite, according to the vocalist on the CD, Carla Diratz, was recorded in November of 2010, after she and bassist Corentin Coupe got together in Montpellier, France. They created some 20 tracks or so in a matter of 3 months and played a few gigs ... and then for various reasons, they were unable to tour and play gigs that were offered. So the duo separated. One and a half years later they decided to get together again and added guitar and drums to play the music they'd recorded, and voila, her new group No White Of Moon was born.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Out Louds, Tomas Fujiwara, Ben Goldberg, Mary Halvorson

The internet is all about classification. Or I should say being read on the internet is that. Here today for example is an album, a first by the trio known as (and a CD self-titled as) The Out Louds (Relative Pitch RPR 1042). It is a well considered triumvirate of Mary Halvorson on electric guitar, Tomas Fujiwara on drums and Ben Goldberg on clarinet. I post it here on the Guitar Blog because Mary's playing will be of great interest to guitar-minded folks. But if I had a clarinet blog, it could easily go there, or on a drum blog, too. That is because all three give us much to appreciate.

It is a matter of 11 freely improvised numbers of weight. Each captures a special moment of inspiration, where Mary comes up with some foundational single-line and/or chorded memorability, Ben replies with a wealth of jagged and/or flowing lines that express a good deal that is wonderful, and Tomas drums in and out of time with a special flourish which is his alone. So it is a matter of some great guitar, great clarinet, great drumming, great trio enacting. If I put it here it at least covers one-third of what makes this one a real keeper.

Mary has gone her own way for quite some time as her own "brand" of free guitar, which is to say that the WHAT is original and foundational. You could say the same for Ben's clarinet and Tomas' drums.

The ins and outs of it all is that this one gives us some fine and original free improvisations, free jazz with its own way of presenting melodic-harmonic-rhythmic complexes that keep interest level high, that make a kind of modern statement of uniqueness. And it's all good. Very good!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Kevin Kastning, Skyfields

If you do not know of him already, here is a great way to become familiar with the very original and provocatively beautiful 15- and 36-string guitar work of Kevin Kastning. Skyfields (greydisc GDR 3530) is Kevin in a solo setting, mapping out his extraordinarily way with these fabulous sounding guitars, played in the upright position like a contrabass and tuned in special ways that Kevin exploits with an  intelligence, exploratory will and lyrical sensitivity for a result that is truly one-of-a-kind and musically fascinating, almost like music of another planet it sounds so unique.

The album pans out nicely with five segments of compositional-improvisational interest. The flexibility of the guitars is exploited so that we hear harp-like strains, guitar-centered melodic harmonic inventions and things that almost sound lute-like.

It is an excellent outing that will make a believer of you if you do not know his music and will confirm to the others that do that Kastning makes memorable atmospheric music that puts him in a special place.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Raptor Trail, New World

Time for a little new alt rock by a good band I have not been exposed to previously, the Raptor Trail. The one I have been liking, the subject of this review, is their second album, New World (MBM Entertainment). It's a power trio of Matt Mayes on guitars and vocals, Johnny Meyer on guitars, keys, bass and vocals, and Gene Bass on drums.

They get a densely vivid sound on the album, with some heaviness and lots of fine guitar/bass routines--and very solid, driving foundational drumming. Their musicality is everywhere evident. The songs have progressions not at all cliche, and the melodic vibrancy reminds me just a bit of early REM, and that to me is a cool thing. Both Matt and Johnny sing well.

And in the end you have an album that stands out as singular and nicely arranged, songs that grow on you little by little and do not tire the ears, ever.

The Raptor Trail are doing good. I hope lots of folks get into them. I do recommend you check this album out if you want something very substantial and worthwhile among the new rock offerings out there now. I am a fan based on this one!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny

You might think that after all this time Pat Metheny and his guitar playing/music styling have settled into a comfortable niche and will stay there ever more. It turns out that is definitely not the case. Beautiful evidence to the contrary can be heard on the new album Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch). It is Cuong Vu out front of course, a vital trumpeter and bandleader-composer. He was a part of Pat Metheny's group for a long while and now Pat returns the favor by interjecting his nearly always brilliant self into Vu's considerable trio--Vu, the formidable Stomu Takeishi on bass, and the equally formidable Ted Poor on drums. Was Ted at Berklee when I was? Seems vaguely so to me but no matter. The idea is that this is a kick-out-the-jams trio who are avant and tight, who can swing in a rock enhanced, free or jazz pulsating way and make very considerable use of their collective imagination.

The music consists of five lively and musical Vu originals plus one by Andrew d'Angelo and one by Pat. They set the stage for some very considerable playing. Pat adds much to the proceedings, but always as a part of the resultant quartet, so you get plenty of Cuong, Stomu and Ted.

The music varies between a changes directed modern jazz to outness and sometimes some unexpected rock heaviness one finds works very nicely. Pat sounds excellent and transformative. You can hear a little of all "periods" of his playing coming into being here but tempered by time passing (and not in a bad way) and flying upwards to new levels. Stomu plays some exceptional electric bass and is post-Jaco but himself in his considerable presence. Ted blazes forth when he needs to, superbly. Both drive the four-way vehicle to where Cuong and Pat can thrive, soar, be subtle yet fired up too when needed.

I never quite know what to expect from couplings like this. This one is everything one might hope for and more. The sum of the parts make for something very special and it is a wonder to hear it. Bravo!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Guy Buttery

South African acoustic guitarist Guy Buttery astounds with his self-titled recent album Guy Buttery (self-released). For the recording he retreated to a small farmhouse in Zululand where he settled in to make some beautiful music on his acoustic guitar in the company of a nicely varying cast of musical-vocal associates and friends.

The roots of African music and landscapes are never far away as Guy embarks on a series of ever-shifting, beautifully realized numbers with his acoustic and mbira engaging with vocals, mouth bow, concertina, drums, electric piano, organ, cuatro, sarangi, second acoustic or electric guitar, and acoustic bass.

There is a sort of wonderful meshing of African riffs and compositional-arranged blends in a contemporary and sometimes very bluesy, rocking vein, other times a prog-rock-like attention to detail.

Buttery excels at making the most of such combinations with some very fine, original playing. His associates get the spirit as well.

The results are truly invigorating and artful. Any devotee of the new Africa soundings will find this rather incredibly nice. And Buttery is some guitarist, too. Very recommended!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Spiderwebs, In Between the Known and the Unknown, with Sandy Ewen

OK space cadets--here is a vigorous wash of cosmic guitars, the three-member Spiderwebs group and their outward bound album In Between the Known and the Unknown (Chiastic Society >x< 04).

What is it? A three-way avant venture by guitarists Sandy Ewen, Tom Carter and Ryan Edwards. This is a tapestry of feedback, avant skronk guitar soundings and reverberant envelopes of layered ambiance.

Four substantially involved segments appear before us, the first a collaboration of Tom and Ryan, the second Sandy and Ryan, the third Sandy and Tom and the long finale all three in tandem.

It is music that is the logical emergence and evolution of guitar atmospheric trends first set by Hendrix and Sharrock and brought to where we are now via Bailey, Frith, Fripp and etc.

This one succeeds by virtue of a cavernous attention to sonic sculpting, an ensemble-oriented devotion to detailed resonant psychedelics, and the rightness of the individual creative choices made by each member of the threesome.

It has noise elements, drones and overlaying metallic explosiveness, a sensitive openness to the avant possibilities of the electric guitar on the modern fringes of expansion.

I find it beautiful, provocative, musically rich, and cosmically far beyond. Kudos!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Lauren Lee and Charley Sabatino, Velocity Duo, Dichotomies

From the artistic "Downtown" energy force of present-day New York comes the talented Velocity Duo--vocalist Lauren Lee and bassist Charley Sabatino--and their album Dichotomies (self released). Lauren is a very musical, wordless vocal force with a wide vocabulary of intervallic possibilities, timbres and spontaneous line-creating acumen. Charley Sabatino is an upright bass player that matches Lauren in his spontaneous bass-sounding presence and inventiveness.

The two together decided to launch each segment with a word and its opposite, to make that the basis for their utterly free creations. So we get "Tranquility/Cacophony," "Awe/Melancholy," "Apathy/Desire" and "Disappointment and Joy," as a few examples. The idea here was to give the duo springboards to reach a variety of free destinations, and it succeeds well.

There are no moments of running in place, of searching for inspiration. Each is completely attuned to the other and rather confidently embarks on each brief free journey in ultra-musical ways.

Bassists, vocalists and music appreciation hounds will all find this album a fascinating foray into total spontaneity. These two have something to say and they do say it! Very recommended.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Janis, Little Girl Blue, DVD of the Film by Amy J. Berg

I grew up and came of age in the later '60s. Of course there was no way I did not know of the huge talent and big voice of Janis Joplin. I loved her but I also had some misgivings about how she was packaged and presented. "The next Bessie Smith?" Well that helped us get into Bessie Smith's beautiful recordings but no, she was NOT that. What bugged me about her life and death as it was packaged for me, something I could not quite put my finger on at the time, is beautifully clarified in the Amy J. Berg film, Janis, Little Girl Blue, which is now available as a nicely packed DVD with some extras (MVD Visual 8304D).

It has a real handle on, yes, the career-bio track of Janis, but it also delves deeply into the very personal side of her life, who she was, way down inside. So we get extremely relevant footage of recollections by those who knew her well (those still alive anyway), like her sister, bandmates, boyfriends/girlfriends/lovers, etc.

And we get all the dazzle of her meteoric, spectacular rise to world fame at a time when perhaps more people in the world were stoned than ever before or since, and if you were there and remember anything about it, or if you were on the fringes of it and mostly observed, being very stoned did not necessarily give you insight into others around you so much as it heightened a sense of self (-in-putative world). With so many very stoned people surrounding her, her real needs were less understood, maybe. But Amy Berg nails it in terms of what her very sympathetic documentary uncovers on the "real" Janis Joplin.

She was a very intelligent and very musical woman whose youth and early adulthood were not extraordinarily conducive to who she was. She was taunted as a sort of misfit in high school, not at all the center of the universe that she perhaps later became for a very few years. It had lasting effects on her. But when she discovered she could SING, really sing, it changed everything. Suddenly she was not only accepted, but welcomed. The freak scene was opening up in San Francisco. She eventually managed to hook up with Big Brother, a not entirely talented psychedelic band that nonetheless gave her a platform to develop into a rock singer of great power. As a woman then, she was given a role as the showcase vocalist, but in those days especially it was rare for a woman to get involved directly in the creation-composition-bandsmanship and she did not really, happy enough to be idolized for her vocalisms. And perhaps in the end there wasn't enough in the way of co-creators, especially in the end, to help her develop into what she was in potential....

At the same time the over-the-top drug scene found her greatly involved. It was a time for that. And maybe unlike some others (very debatable anyway) that did little to enhance her art. Plus, deep within she had an enormous need to be loved. The stage performances were in many ways a kind of ersatz communal love experience between herself and her audience, but after the show was over, she seemingly felt ever more alone, or so my take on the movie suggests. The very sensitive being she was could be masked in part by dope and she eventually became seriously addicted to junk. NONE of this was good for her musically and the movie points out how her post Big Brother career was in some ways a caricature of her early brilliance, a self-mimicking of her original energy. I do not know. Being a woman then she was not expected and herself demured from really becoming a musical director and in the hands of the major label etc. she was buffeted about in the search for sales and popularity but left a little stranded as the artist she was in abundance.

The movie gives you the fragile, needy, sensitive being thrown into the circus of the rock world and ultimately, becoming another one of its victims. It is tragic but it also lets you know her much better as a person--her letters, interviews, and indirectly or otherwise, her inner feelings, her experience of an enormous lack juxtaposed oddly with enormous acclaim and success.

It is very sad, in the end. It is beautifully done, surely one of the best rock biodocs I have ever seen!