Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dominic Miller, Silent Light

That I am covering an album slightly late is no reflection of what I think of it. It is more to do with a hectic period this year that has receded  and allowed me to get back to what matters. Dominic Miller is a creative, rather brilliant acoustic guitarist firmly on the dreamy side of the ECM sound. His latest album Silent Light (ECM 2518) allows him time to stretch out and weave atmospheric webs of luminous intimacy. He is joined on five of 11 numbers by the percussion and in one case drums of Miles Bould.

Dominic fills the air with lyrical, accomplished original playing that includes a wonderful ability to comp and pick away within a very sophisticated harmonic-melodic world that in the end is his alone. There are no easy words to describe what he comes up with on this fine album, except perhaps to say that the lyrical tradition of Ralph Towner and Oregon are in no way antithetical to this music, though there is no sign of imitation, just a parallel universe.

He brings to us a beauty that bears your close attention and makes a smile adorn your face almost involuntarily. I do not think I need to say any further for now. Just listen.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Machine Mass Plays Hendrix, with Michel Delville

Jimi Hendrix remains one of our greatest American rock musicians ever. His guitar work revolutionized how we would look at such things, and his concept and compositions remain ever fresh and vital. So when the fuse-prog trio Machine Mass elected to do a tribute album, Machine Mass Plays Hendrix (MoonJune 084), it was of course a worthy idea.

Michel Delville as one of the leading guitar practitioners in the adventuresome realms today is a natural hommage master. He turns in creative rock-solid performances and adds further electronics to the trio mix to fill things out. He is joined by Machine Mass regulars Tony Bianco on drums and Antoine Guenet on keyboards, synths and piano.

They take some of Hendrix's most compelling songs-compositions and make of them something both contemporary and spacy, without ever violating the spirit of the originals. So we get a notable mix of Jimi's classics, "Third Stone From the Sun," "Little Wing," "Voodoo Chile," "The Wind Cries Mary," etc.

It is an opportunity to get inside these tunes with an original take on them, and for Delville to let loose with freely spaced-out post-Hendrix guitar brilliance.

It may take a couple of listens to fully enter the Machine Mass zone. Once you do, it is a wondrous terrain of the very familiar combined with the unexpected.

Need I say more? Dig this one.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Markus Reuter, Featuring Sonar and Tobias Reber, Falling for Ascension

Some music you are at first thrown off a bit by, in that you weren't sure what to expect, but this was not quite it. Then later you settle in and find it is music of real excellence. It is part of the ever growing possibilities of a true artist, and as a true listener you need to be ready for anything. So this describes well my first, somewhat distracted listen and my later embrace of Markus Reuter's Falling for Ascension (Ronin RON018)..

That this is released on Nik Bartsch's Ronin label is not an accident. The themes for this album were written by Markus between 1985 and 1987. Yet they do not sound at all dated. They share with Bartsch's music a mesmeric minimal funk that sprawls wonderously outward with continually shifting, odd meters. It is a mid-sized ensemble of six players, Markus on touch guitars and soundscapes, plus two more guitars, bass guitars and live electronics.

Each segment carves out its meter-motif infinity with distinctly well hewn structure and flow. The final work "Unconditional" makes a definitive end of it with the most compelling and complex of all of them. I very much suppose your ears will hear the relation between the Crimsonian tide of those years as well as its place in the prog minimal funk that followed.

It is exceptional music for endlessly rewarding drift and ecstatic momentum. It is ensemble intricacy at its most musically stimulating, both rock and post-rock!

Grab it for sure!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Dialeto, Bartok in Rock

Dialeto is a very cool power trio in the fusion-prog mold. Their Bartok in Rock (Chromatic Music CMCD 001) is all those excellent things Bartokian adapted rather brilliantly for a fusion outing. Selections from "Mikrokosmos" and "Roumanian Folk Dances" form the bulk of the material. Everything sounds just right and there are some nice guitar solos to flesh things out a bit.

It is Nelson Coelho on electric guitar, Gabriel Costa on bass guitar and Fred Barley on drums. They are full of piss and vinegar as one might hope, so we get lots of great music with a ballsy edge. And that seems perfect as a coherent direction.

Why is Bartok so successfully adapted by jazz and now rock musicians? I cannot give you a particularly coherent answer except it always seems to fit right into an advanced contemporary concept, never more so that this Dialeto album.

It keeps sounding good every time I put it on. I kid you not, this one is muy hot!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Max Johnson, In the West

If I have not posted on this blog in a while, it is not because I seek to discontinue coverage. On the contrary. My everyday life has become more demanding lately. And everything else has taken a back seat. I aim to revive posting here. Today marks that beginning.

An auspicious one. The bassist Max Johnson has been getting more and more attention for his appearances as a top tier avant jazz bassist and a bandleader. In the West (Clean Feed 439) is in a way the culmination of his presence thus far. What we have is an excellent quartet of players at the pinnacle of the New York scene, playing mostly Johnson compositions. The framework is thoughtful, the players realizations central.

Max of course is the bassist for the date. His playing has catapulted him into one of the busier bassists on the scene and this album shows you why. His open-field playing shows a superior sense of note choice, timbral richness and an all-encompassing drive. And he in a way is ever soloing, in the sense that it all has an outstanding presence. His rhythm teammate Mike Pride on the drums shows himself as always a smart. flexible artist who drums as musically as anybody these days.

Susan Alcorn makes of the pedal steel guitar a timbrally rich, notefully central front-line force. There is always a close rapport with what she does and what else is going on at any given time. Kris Davis has become one of my favorite pianists in the avant jazz fold. She does all the right things in a very pianistic way. No note is wasted and no opportunity to contribute squandered. Listen to what she does here and you may not be able NOT to smile.

So there we are. In the West is no doubt Max Johnson at his very best to date. The quartet is excellent and there is edge-to-edge relevance.

Hear this one by all means.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Kevin Kastning, Mark Wingfield, The Line to Three

Well, buckle up your seat belt because The Line to Three (Greydisc 3533) takes you on a journey into deep space. It is a further collaboration between Kevin Kastning on 30-string contra-alto guitar, 15-string extended classical guitar, piano and percussion, and Mark Wingfield on electric guitar, live electronics and pre-recorded soundscapes.

This as you can imagine is post-psychedelic guitar art that in my head extends what Terje Rypdal forged for us--a new music psychedelia if you will--and takes it in very original and further outward directions.

The guitar work from the two is exceptional, beautifully extended guitar-as-art expansions into dramatically chromatic fields well supported by piano and soundscapes.

It is fabulous music! I wish I had made it, that is how germinal-internal it is for me.

I most heartily recommend it to you. Turn it on and tune it in!

Wynton Kelly Trio, Wes Montgomery, Smokin' in Seattle, 1966

To my mind any live Wes Montgomery that exists in decent sound and has not been circulated commercially until now is a release event of importance. So when Smokin' in Seattle, Live at the Penthouse (Resonance 2029) arrived in my mailbox a while back I was tingling in anticipation. The music, quite well recorded, comes from a couple of radio broadcasts from April 1966.

It is a worthy addition to what we have heard from the excellent collaboration of Wes on guitar and the Wynton Kelly Trio, which of course set the pace with two excellent albums, Smokin' at the Half Note and Full House. On this new release Wynton Kelly has bassist Ron Mcclure on board as well as Jimmy Cobb in the drum chair.

They as you would totally expect swing and smoke with authority for the date. Half of the numbers feature the trio alone, presumably as a warm up. These cuts do not detract from the whole, since of course Wynton was on top of the world then. The remaining cuts bring in Wes. And oh, what a great thing it is to hear more of him in a concentrated live jazz setting.

He is in terrific form, as is Wynton and the trio.

We lost so much when we lost Wes so early. But this music reminds us that we did not lose everything when he took his leave, because of course he left us his recorded output. This fills it in with some spectacular soloing. Do not miss it!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Thumbscrew, Convallaria, Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara

Was there ever a time when people could know the future with certainty? At best humans projected the present outwards and assumed things would continue to move along the same lines or continue the same (deceptive) stasis. My childhood happened at a time when the US had a somewhat arrogant assurance that we were on the eve of permanently occupying outer space, as '50s people with zits, crew cuts and stupid glasses yet with metallic suits on. Futurism was at a height and the future music we imagined was created in advance by an avant garde, Sun Ra, Stockhausen, Varese, Mingus. We were definitely headed OUT THERE.

If we collectively never quite made it, the space music-of-the-future never quite died out, thankfully. Right now, if you look hard enough, there are numerous recordings of what might have been seen as space-age years ago. Now, it is just the music of the present. The world of jazz is well represented in this sphere. And some of that is very electric, some of it is slightly electric. Thumbscrew is in the latter category. It is a trio of electric guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. The album is called Convallaria (Cuneiform). I believe it is their second as a unit. (See my index search box above for a review of the first album.)

The purely improvisational outlooks of these three musicians are masterful and unparalleled. The compositional weightiness of the program on this album has an equal importance, so that we get a sort of spacey free jazz rockiness that covers some of the unexplored interstices between the genres that is perfectly right for Thumbscrew's musico-collective personality.

Mary is much more than the sum of her occasional effects boxes use. She is alway intelligent and in forward motion, a free guitarist's guitarist. Michael is as ever an extraordinarily creative bassist and plays a huge roll in the success of the trio. Tomas busily and importantly occupies some profound drumming space.

In short this is important music that extends the contemporary rock-free jazz ground outward in greatly rewarding ways.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ape Shifter

Ape Shifter (Maximum Booking/Brainstorm Records BS0401639) is the brainchild of guitarist Jeff Aug, who wrote the 11 catchy instrumentals on the record. He is joined in a worthy power trio configuration by Kurty Munch on drums and Florian Walter on bass. It looks like this band is based in Germany.

This is hard-rock quasi-metal that gives a nod to the rootedness of the music--Zep and such. And the more contemporary influence of things like Van Halen. Jeff plays a very solid power-chord centered guitar. Kurty and Florian come through with the heft that is needed.

It is a thorough hoot. Well played. If you like a good power trio that can and does crank it, here you go!


Thursday, May 25, 2017

On Fillmore, Happiness of Living

If music doesn't immediately shout at you, "I am this or I am that!" as you first hear it, a number of things might happen. You might reject it out of hand because it is not enough "this" or not enough "that." That may make you angry or confused. "How dare they make me work at what I want to be immediate!" you might think. Or you may try and get used to its refusal to straddle one thing or another. You may come to see what the music does as in time you find it comparable to other mixtures. Or it will not seem comparable but you will find that in the end it pleases you.

That any number of the above reactions may apply to the group On Fillmore and their album Happiness of Living (Northern Spy 083) seems to me inevitable. The back cover informs us that "On Fillmore is Darin Gray and Glenn Kotche." OK? The inside liners, orange with light yellow type, a highly unreadable combo alas, tells us that another seven artists are involved: percussionists, guitarists, electricians, vocalists, drummers, a tape-ologist, and etc.

The music has a kind of polyrhythmic Afro-ethnicity to it, an alt rock lineage maybe, and a compositional-song set of structures that puts the whole thing in motion.

It is not a guitar or bass spotlight. Everything melds together. Sometimes the vocals remind me a little of South African group sings, sometimes not.

And as I listen and relisten I get a feeling that nothing quite compares to this one. But also that it is good, this new something. Hear, hear.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

O.R.K., Soul of an Octopus

Art Rock, for lack of a better term, continues to evolve and develop. As others have remarked elsewhere, the fate of interesting and worthwhile rock seems to be following in the path that jazz has followed. Initially a music of great popular success, the music perhaps no longer dominates the pop charts as it once did, but instead has become more of a specialized art genre in its own right, where the elements that make it what is has been are still present but further evolved at times away from easy popular success and more towards an audience looking for substantial music. Just as jazz has gone from a music central to the popular zeitgeist to an art form independent of mass appeal, so perhaps goes rock. The Beatles' Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was one of the celebrated forebears of evolved rock, surely. And there were many other albums from that era onwards that made claims for the music as much more than hit tunes per se. And Chuck Berry or Little Richard certainly made of the music an art as much as a success. So now we go forward and the roots have made it all possible.

If that is so the band O.R.K. and their album Soul of an Octopus (Rarenoiserecords RNR075/RNR075LP) are an excellent example of rock in its developing away from a commercial form to an art form.

O.R.K. is a quartet of Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari on keys, electronics and lead vocals, Carmelo Pipitone on acoustic and electric guitars, Colin Edwin on fretted and fretless bass, and Pat Mastelotto on acoustic and electronic drums and percussion.

This is music that centers around song form. The song is the primary vehicle that one encounters, with highly evolved progressive instrumental parts that set everything off and gives each song a highly complex musical substance, a depth.

Each instrumental and vocal part meshes together, vocal and thought out keyboard parts, guitar and bass, drums, all in the evolved sort of progressive sphere that looks back to bands like King Crimson and others as the models that have made it possible to go further afield into sophisticated futurist realms.

This is an album that demands your close attention and rewards with music that increasingly grows on you. It gives us music of a definite character, with an elaborate whole that demands guitar and bass prowess but integrates that into the complex totality.

It is music that gives you much to appreciate. This could be part of what the future of the music holds for us. At any rate it gives us a great deal that is happening right now! Listen.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trespass Trio, The Spirit of Pitesti


Clean Feed records has the uncanny ability to expose us to vital new avant jazz artists, many not as familiar to us as it turns out they should be. Much of the music they release is essential. A case in point is the Trespass Trio and their album The Spirit of Pitesti (Clean Feed 418). The music sneaks up on you rather than takes you captive at the start. It is a band that needs time and your focused listening self together in the same listening space for a while. Then, bit by bit, you know.

Anybody who follows Euro-jazz in some depth will recognize the three names: Per Zanussi on double bass, Raymond Strid on drums, Martin Kuchen on baritone, alto and sopranino. The tunes are by Zanussi, Kuchen or collectively forged. All are important in establishing the trio and its freely introspective ways. Kuchen is a fabulous self on baritone, like nobody, but great as well on alto and sopranino. Zanussi plays a thinking man's bass, in every way a rhythm section dynamo and a front line finesser of great ideas. Strid blazes forth with splatter-smarts and swing.

But this is all about the three together. They really take off. . . as a trio and bring us some startling music.

No doubt to me--they are one of the finest avant jazz trios active in Europe today. You must give this your attention. Well, not MUST, but you SHOULD!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, Glare of the Tiger

This is no place to talk about the crisis in American culture today. But certainly part of it is technological. I was finishing the last sentence on a review of the recording at hand yesterday when in three keystrokes (thanks to a permanent defect in my computer) I deleted the entire article and was unable to recover it. Bad enough that computers and the net helped destroy my entire career and in the end resulted in the loss of my home and most of what I owned. Now I do these blog post for free and my partner thinks I am a fool. That all is OK but I feel like rewriting this entire review over again from scratch like I feel like having open-heart surgery.

Alright then. What we have is a fusion-space band in the grand tradition of Miles classic electric bands and Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi. Now that Neo-Trad is just another style we can go back and reconsider the advances in avant electrics that were revolutionizing the jazz scene and at their best offered excitement, deep groove and freedom all in the same moment.

There have been some nice revisitations and rethinkings in recent years. Wadada's Yo Miles comes to mind among others. Now we have Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, a octet that forwards the classic electric spacerockfunk of earlier years and shows us there is still plenty of mileage left on the style, still things to be done to forward it into the future.

There is a sort of three dimensional structure that the band adapts and makes vividly alive. First there is the well-conceived rhythm team. Adam puts together an ensemble of hand drums to make his own "handrumset." His vital playing meshes very nicely with the drumset of Hamid Drake and the percussion of James Hurt. Then electric bassist Damon Banks melodizes the groove by acting as the foundational riffmaster.

All this plays off against electric guitarist-electrician Kenny Wessel's and keyboardist Alexis Marcelo's middle ground of solo and rhythmic essentials.

Finally the horn section of Graham Haynes on cornet, flugelhorn (and electronics) and Ralph M. Jones on reeds float atop with composed lines and solos that stretch the music and give it multiple tensile strengths.

Everyone works together to make this a music of soul, thoughtfulness and space travel. It's one of the most successful and originally launched fusion revamps I've heard, one of the best of the bunch. Take a listen!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Carlos Bica & Azul, More Than This, with Frank Mobus and Jim Black

A bass player led trio? Yes. Carlos Bica steps out with a loose-tight offering that puts forth a trio of distinction. Bica's eloquent acoustic bass pairs with a great feel from guitarist Frank Mobus and the ever-strong drumming of Jim Black. It is, to give it its proper name, Carlos Bica & Azul on an album called More Than This (Clean Feed 398).

What gets this one your ear is a sort of semi-spooky spaciness and electricity of the Mobus guitar (something with roots perhaps of Frisell, Abercrombie, and the like but also a distinct personal edginess), the post Eberhard Weber, rich-toned bass thoughtfulness of Bica and the open inventiveness of Black's drumming.

These are nicely wrought pieces, mostly written by Bica, who takes care that he forwards the sound with melodic leads that have gorgeous harmonic fleshing out by Mobus as called for. Or alternately Mobus handles the melodic head only perhaps to then hand it on to Bica.

It is both edgy and lyrical, sometimes both at once. There are nice solo moments to hear throughout and a kind of open jazz-rock-space zone that attracts magnetically if you listen properly.

This is hugely pleasurable music from Bica and a beautiful trio. I strongly suggest you listen!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Peter Bruntnell, Nos Da Comrade

If you revel in the serious guitar jangle and outstanding songwriting of post-Beatledom, like with the Smithereens, XTC, or some selected others, you will be very happy to hear Peter Bruntnell's new album Nos Da Comrade (MVDAudio MVD9722A).

Keep in mind this is achingly alternate music. It may be bad enough that it may be the end of the world, but Peter is going to miss it--he will arrive late, or in other words not at all.

There is a hint of retro but it is also right now. Peter sings the lead vocals, plays guitar along with Dave Little and James Walbourne. It is strumming and picking tied properly to the song and so you do not sit up and exclaim, "Hey, those guitars!" There is some effective soloing here and there in a Neil Youngish way, to try and tie to a name.

In the same way Little and Walbourne's keys are firmly harnessed to the demands of the songs, as are Peter Noone's bass and Mick Clews' drums.

The tracks do what they do with near perfection and in the end you (or at least I) want to hear this one again, and then again.

Song connoisseurs of the contemporary rock landscape take note. I am very pleased with this music. Maybe you will be, too? I think so. Give it a chance!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

William Parker and Stefano Scodanibbio, Bass Duo

For those with keen ears or with the wish to acquire them, there are important releases coming out that give the hearer a wealth of subtle and strongly musical depth, texture and immediacy. One such release features bass master and father figure of the current New York free jazz scene, Maestro William Parker in a live duo performance with Italian bass master Stefano Scodanibbio. Bass Duo (Centering Recordings 1013) is the matter-of-fact name of the album.

It is a documentation of their very fruitful collaborative appearance at the Udine&Jazz 2008 Festival in Udine, Italy. It marks the only appearance of the two together. Given Scodanibbio's too early passing in 2012, there will not be any other. But what they did that day together gives us a great deal.

Scodanibbio like Parker was bassist, composer and leading light--in the former case was central to the new music scene as contrabass exponent in advanced works by the likes of Xenakis, Ferneyhough, Globokar, etc.

In many ways this duo reminds us that, certainly in terms of technique and expanded sonic extensions if not in various other ways, there is synergy between the most advanced free improvisation proponents and those who open up parallel universes of sounds in the avant new music sphere.

Mark Dresser in the liner notes draws out the differences in approach that mark the different camps. I will not reproduce that here but refer you to the CD jacket itself.

William and Stefano transcend those differences by close listening and free inventions that set off the mutual dedication both contrabassists have to the sound color and weighted attack expressive possibilities of the modern instrument. So both make excellent interplay out of extended bowing in all its varied richness, harmonics, sounding in various positions bowed above and below the bridge, bowing attack, etc.

They also create some exhilarating double pizzicato passages.

One hears inside the notes to a microscopic sound world when William and Stefano get rolling. Fully getting it demands a focused, concentrated listen. The effort pays off as one contemplates how complete the instrument can be, and with two masters in good form here, we hear a nearly orchestral variance of tone and timbre.

This is music bass players will be fascinated by, for sure, but it is an all-encompassing listen as well for anybody who opens up to it.

Stefano Scodanibbio was and William Parker still is in the handful of bass pioneers, breathtaking virtuosos of the new. This summit meeting reminds us how much MUSIC can come out of the creative virtuoso contrabass greats when allowed free space and time, a sympathetic audience and the inspiration of the moment.

It is some fantastic interplay, a high point of contrabass duo possibilities. Get it if you can and listen carefully. You will go places.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Terra Guitarra, Of Sea & Stars

Terra Guitarra is a well-burnished mix of acoustic classical guitars in a modern synthesis of the flamenco and South American guitar traditions and a contemporary sort of progressive tunefulness, oft times in a minor mode. Their new album Of Sea & Stars (Earthsign Records 0020) gives us captivating mood music that will appeal to guitar-critical listeners as well as a general audience seeking something mellow.

What distinguishes this from a faux ambiant new age typicality is the pronounced sophistication of the melodic content and the artfulness of the guitars. Bruce Hecksel and Julie Patchouli are responsible for the attractive multiple guitar parts as well as the accompanying instruments (bass, drums, keys, cedar flute, hand percussion).

The result is a very listenable set foregrounded by some fine guitar craftsmanship.

Check it out!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Velkro, Too Lazy to Panic

Put Velkro's album Too Lazy to Panic (Clean Feed 404) on and within seconds you enter a universe of sound made riveting by guitarist Stephan Meidell's rich feedback-laced sound along with its more pure-toned counterpart. Then drummer Luis Candelas gets your ear with his rich, rock dense but free pulsating drumming. Finally we note saxman Bostjan Simon strong entrance on sax.

From that point on we take a ride into extraordinarily attractive outside, electronically rich hybrids of psychedelia and free jazz. It's an album that got me to mutter "wow" from the first hearing on.

Guitar pioneering fans will no doubt take to Meidell's hugely sensitive feel for sound and attack. It is something you cannot miss. But then the trio moves forward continuously into fascinating and (for me) riveting zones, intricate and strong, bracing and exciting.

I reviewed and appreciated their earlier Don't Wait for the Revolution on these pages. Type "Velkro" into the search box above for that.

This music travels far beyond ordinary words and must be listened to more than talked about.

I am in a very happy place hearing this album. You with a sense of adventure will no doubt feel the same way if you give this one a chance.

A real discovery! Get this platter onto your system as soon as you can--and feel it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Nick Millevoi, Desertion

I am running a little late thanks to a technically difficult cold season. Now it is time to catch up. First in that series is the recent album by cosmic guitarist Nick Millevoi--Desertion (ShhPuma 024).

It's an excellent set from Nick, the always game Jamie Saft on organ and piano, Johnny DeBlase on acoustic and electric bass and Ches Smith on drums.

This one has a tune orientation with some very catchy ones from Nick. The overall balance is as expected a sort of jazz-rock psychedelic approach, but a bit more structured and less overtly power-driven than some of Nick's earlier albums (I've reviewed a fair number here). But what that does is open things up for the harmonic-melodic aspects of the Millevoi approach. It shows us that his "anything goes" openness can include the compositional realm with very worthwhile results.

This album gives you a good chance to hear Nick's inventive guitar outness in all its fullness, but in ways that will gain him perhaps a wider audience. It is a somewhat more thoughtful context, but not more "commercial" for that.

Everybody is tuned in for the date and the more you listen, the more things you hear. This is first-rate Millevoi and a great listen all around. Check it out.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Michael Blum Quartet, Chasin' Oscar, A Tribute to Oscar Peterson

Something unusual today, a tribute to jazz piano great Oscar Peterson by a very hip guitarist, Michael Blum and his quartet, on an album entitled Chasin' Oscar (Michael Blum Music).

Some swinging contemporary jazz is what we get, most of the music associated directly or indirectly with Oscar. Blum much of the time has adopted Oscar's recorded solo from each tune and made it live for guitar. He is seconded very nicely by pianist Brad Smith, bassist Jim Stinnett (whom Blum cites as an important teacher and mentor) and drummer Dom Moio.

Michael also sings on "Tenderly" and that sounds good as well.

This is music of high artistry, from a guitarist who has absorbed Peterson's ethos and made it over in his own image and sound design.

I must say I enjoy this album thoroughly! Take a listen.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mark Whitfield, Grace


As we proceed through our musical lives, we generally find ourselves within earshot of a  number of artists who do things that catch our ears, that somehow express a simpatico musical vision that speaks to us. Guitarist Mark Whitfield and his new album Grace (Marksman Productions 8.2268533147-3) resonates with me in this way. It's him and his well accomplished guitar, his sons Davis and Mark, Jr. on piano and drums, respectively, and Yasushi Nakamura on bass. Vocalist Sy Smith drops in for vocals on the title cut.

The music is in the straight-ahead zone, alternately swinging and funking its way through some attractive Mark Whitfield originals (with help from Dave on one, lyrics by Sy on the title cut).

Everyone is in the pocket, Davis plays some hip piano, but in the end it is the considered fluency and inventiveness of leader Mark himself that wins the day.

Good-o~ 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Lisa Mezzacappa, avantNOIR

Lisa Mezzacappa is a formidable avant jazz acoustic bassist and composer. She is someone with a good idea of where she is going, as you can hear from her latest CD avantNOIR (Clean Feed 401 CD).

This is avant jazz that reflects the black and white noir sensibility through eight interconnected numbers that give us an Asphalt Jungle sort of musical narrative. Lisa on bass, Aaron Bennett on tenor, William Winant on vibes and percussion, Tim Perkis on electronics and Jordan Glenn on drums give characteristic voice to the charts and solo well as needed.

The compositions are out front, but then the solos are inextricable from the finished result. Lisa sounds great on bass, John has a good out feel on guitar, but then Aaron's tenor is pivotal to the ensemble as is William's vibes.

Of course John Zorn has something to do with the noir jazz uprising and you can hear his influence here. Ultimately, though, it all steps forward nicely into Mezzacappa territory.

Mezzacappa gives us richly constructed music that leaves us with a very modern take on NOIR sensibility.

A good one! Very recommended.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Trevor Giancola Trio, Fundamental

From Toronto we have a hard-swinging, line-creating contemporary outing from guitarist Trevor Giancola and his very together trio, in an album dubbed Fundamental (self-released).

Trevor and his companions Neil Swainson on bass and Adam Arruda on drums give us a beautiful set of originals, standards and some deserving jazz composition chestnuts (Elmo Hope's "La Berthe" and "De Dah," Joe Henderson's "Punjab," etc.).

It's a fully enabled trio, which means that bassist and drummer not only swing forward greatly but contribute worthy soloing as well.

Giancola has a lining knack and a very nice harmonic sense. The changes underneath go by effortlessly in the hands of Trevor and the trio.

Here's a tasteful and important new voice on the guitar. The trio makes it all a joy!!

Hear this!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Obake, Draugr

We heard some nice guitar confluence a while back from Eraldo Bernocchi and Prakash Sontaake (see my posting from November 23 of last year). Now Bernocchi returns as part of the hard rocking prog-avant outfit Obake. Their album Draugr (Rarenoise CD or vinyl 34849) has much about it that I like, especially in its refusal to cave to formula, something far too many, possibly untalented bands can do these days. Not Obake.

The band is Bernocchi on very electric guitar and electronics, Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (LEF) on very respectable vocals and electronics, Colin Edwin on electric bass and Jacopo Pierazzuoli on drums.

This is super-heavy stuff with riffs but a pronounced tendency compositionally to meld it all together in creative ways. Bernocchi can get very out there in space and that makes for some very nice moments. And they get that very big spaced-out sound that roars at you with a nice hugeness.

Now will everybody that reads this take readily to the music? Possibly not, but my job is to thrust forward interesting musics that the adventurous ear might find as absorbing as mine does.

So if you are in the mood for led-heavy astronautics, by all means check this one out!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Josef Woodward and Charlie Haden, Conversations with Charlie Haden

You do not know Charlie Haden? Anyone reading this column needs to know if they don't. Simply put, Charlie (1937-2014) was a titan of the acoustic bass, among the select handful of the most important and influential bassists of the second half of last century.

And a new book is out that will give you a bird's eye view of why he matters. Conversations with Charlie Haden (Sillman-James Press, 235 pages, paper, $19.95) is an insightful series of interviews Josef Woodward had with Charlie from 1988 to 2008.

The dialogs reveal Charlie as a thoughtful, aesthetically consistent artist who ever strived to realize himself  without compromise, no matter where that took him, from his precocious beginnings as a singer in the family hillbilly band with a regular radio broadcast from age two onwards, his polio and its sharp curtailment of vocalizing, the subsequent lifelong commitment to the contrabass as his principal medium of expression, his rise to fame as the innovative bass voice in Ornette Coleman's breakthrough quartet and its carving out of avant free jazz, and his subsequent involvement with other collaborations, the advent of his Liberation Music Orchestra and later, Quartet West.

All that is covered thoughtfully. Charlie gives us great insight into his involvement with and understanding of Ornette's harmolodic approach, of his bass as fulfilling the role of piano in that band, only being fed the harmonic implications of Ornette's lines rather than the reverse.

But there are lots of other things to gain from this book. Charlie's view of the importance of finding yourself and who YOU are musically is a recurring theme, for example, great advice for any aspiring artist.

It's a book that practically reads itself. Compelling commentary from a jazz titan! Read it by all means.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Joëlle Léandre, A Woman's Work..., 8-CD Boxed Set

 
World-class virtuoso double bassist and vocalist Joëlle Léandre was not on my radar in the years when graduate school, then overwork and low pay forced me to rely on my fellow traveler's avant discoveries to broaden out my knowledge of new improvisational trends. Working as a review writer for Cadence Magazine fortunately gave me access to a world of artists previously unknown to me. As it happened Bob Rusch sent me a Joëlle Léandre CD to review in a batch of new releases, around ten years ago. It was Joëlle on bass and vocals and another vocalist in a live duet set. As is often the case when confronting the truly new I at first did not know what to make of the vocals, though the bass playing was beautifully strong. In time I came to appreciate her artistry both on the bass and vocal front, as I did Cecil Taylor's vocals after some exposure.

Time has passed and I have happily been the recipient of a good number of subsequent Joëlle Léandre albums, and by now I know that her high, very creative level of avant jazz is a given. When she performs (or composes), you can depend on her to be one of world's most important and original avant jazz improv contrabassists and startlingly original vocalists alive today, someone who whether in solo, duo, trio, quartet or larger contexts will give spontaneous form to the proceedings while bringing out the best with those she performs with.

So when I heard from Joëlle that an eight-CD boxed retrospective was in the works, I jumped at the chance to give it all a close listen and, as you see, write up my thoughts when I emerged from the brown study of aural enlightenment.

So, to give you the complete title info, this is A Woman's Work. . . 8-CDs nicely packaged and available on the Not Two label (MW950-2). If I call it a retrospective I do not mean it is a sort of "greatest hits" collection. This is music we have not heard previously, most from 2015, each a special combination of Joëlle and her bass (one in solo), Joëlle and a live audience, Joëlle interacting in duo, trio, quartet, etc. with a select set of improvisational partners, many well known to the vet avant listener, some less so, but all entering into intensely rewarding dialogs with each other.

So we appreciate the collaborators and how in each case they engage Joëlle and vice versa for some excellent free music. Most of my readers will recognize some or all of the collaborators: Jean-Luc Cappozzo, Agusti Fernandez, Fred Frith, Zlatko Kaucic, Mat Maneri, Lauren Newton, Maggie Nichols, Evan Parker and Irene Schweizer.

There is nothing tired or stale about this music. To quote Joëlle from the very informative accompanying booklet, "The sound of a musician is what he has in his guts, in his soul, is what he has to say. Sound is tough work! It's your identity!" Amen! What we have in this box set is a gathering of major sound masters caught in the real-time process of actualizing themselves, through personal sound generation in an endlessly open field. In the process it gives you a definitive guide to the sound artistry of Joëlle Léandre today, bassist of endless productive creation in close conversation with like-minded free spirits, all masters of the sound fingerprint.

Is this all too much? Not at all. I do not suggest you sit down and try to listen to all 8-CDs in one sitting. Take them one or two at a time, then return to them all repeatedly. This is most emphatically NOT music to tire of. Each listen brings new awareness of another aspect of all the things going on, which is a considerable lot.

I would even say that this might indeed point the avant improv novice in the right direction, teach her or him to open the ears, to listen! Get the set and sequester yourself. And for those who know  Joëlle and the style it is a beautiful collection of contrabass profundities, a series of very fruitful avant summits, a collection to treasure, but yes, to help you learn to hear!

And it reminds us just how seminal Joëlle Léandre is in the music of today.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Frank Kohl Quartet, Rising Tide

An articulate phraser who can give great nuance to each and every line, Frank Kohl joins with a very simpatico quartet for some swinging contemporary jazz on Rising Tide (Pony Boy 50186-2).

It's Frank along with Steve LaSpina on acoustic bass, Tom Kohl on piano and Jon Doty on drums in a well-paced program of Kohl originals and a couple of standards. Everybody (maybe even the drummer!?) has internalized his way around changes and has something soulful and interesting to say throughout. Frank has a strong sound that gives the lines torque, a percussive edge that may remind you of vintage Benson but finds its own way around the changes.

Frank is a guitar tastemaker, a true arteest. Hear him out!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

John Abercrombie Quartet, Up and Coming

As we proceed through our lived experience of important and influential jazz giants of our times, we come to realize that many artists, taken as a whole, have had more than one artistic period. John Abercrombie is no exception. There has been more than one way for him. His initial emergence as a fusionist culminated in the Gateway Trio with Holland and DeJohnette, then there were the progressive years where he was extroverted yet spacey, and finally there is the period he has occupied for the last 15 years, give or take. Once he jettisoned his pick, he remained the consummately brilliant  line and chord improviser, yet there was a new coolness that by now has become subtly brilliant. His tone has been burnished so that it is not that far from a Jim Hall, yet nonetheless he blazes his own trail in the adventurous journeys from A to B.

You can hear that beautifully in his latest quartet album Up and Coming (ECM 2528). The excellent foursome of John plus Marc Copland (piano), Drew Gress (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) is deliberately understated in its quietude, yet capable of monstrously exceptional improvisations in realms where we might not have expected them to dwell a decade ago.

Miles' "Nardis" centers the program of what is otherwise five Abercrombie and two Copland originals, sprawling long form improvisational vehicles where great things happen so quietly you have to focus and dig into the excellent details of what is going on to fully appreciate it all.

Once you do, there are some incredible performances that come into your experience, wonderful things.

Do not overlook this one. John is doing some of his best work and the quartet is a breathing improvisational entity one must experience in focus to appreciate.

A bit of a milestone, this. Bravo!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Massimo Discepoli, Daniel Barbiero, An Eclipse of Images

On the CD player this morning is a very well-conceived, spacey opus from drummer-electronician-electric bassist Massimo Discepoli and contrabassist Daniel Barbiero, namely An Eclipse of Images (Acustronica).

This album nicely incorporates cosmic soundscaping, bowed and pizzicato bass, drums in a free and sometimes rocking zone, an electronic backdrop of concentrated outwardness, and an overall arching organic quality.

Daniel sounds great on bass, Massimo on drums and the conceptual totality rings out nicely. It almost seems like a concerto for bass, drums and electronics, the latter acting as a sort of orchestra.

From first to last this hangs together well, reminding at times of early-mid Soft Machine for its psychedelic minimalist spaciousness. But that is only a rough indicator of what you'll get here.

A very enjoyable listen! Recommended for sure.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Samo Salamon, Stefano Battaglia, Winds

I am lucky to get a steady stream of music for consideration. I listen to it all and there are plenty of times when I uncover a gem that I would not otherwise have had a chance to hear. One of those today is up for review. I speak of guitarist Samo Salamon and pianist Stefano Battaglia in the nicely conceived duo date Winds (SAZAS-Klopotec 037).

The music is an appealing mix of spacy soundscapes, jazz-rock-avant improvisations, and progressively oriented adventures in sound sculpture.

It shows both Samo and Stefano as sensitive, powerful players with a clear set of direction, sometimes spurred on with composed elements, always showing a stylistic originality and a confident sense of where to go at any given point.

Samo has an excellent melodic feel and sense of purpose; Stefano's piano presence does a great deal to make of it all something worthy as well.

I like how Samo uses a fair bit of electricity to put the guitar sound into near-rock territory and at the same time constructs lines which extend the sound into further outwardness. Stefano similarly ranges far and wide with a very musical way about him.

For another worthwhile album by Samo, see my March 3, 2006 review on these pages.

Excellent!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Brian Kastan, Roll the Dice on Life

I had no idea about Brian Kastan, composer, guitarist, bandleader. Until now, that is, and his double CD Roll the Dice on Life (Kastan Records 1001). From the moment I put this one on for the first time I heard something I immediately knew was different, unheard of and very accomplished.

There is something Zappaesque, Beefhartian to it all, yet not. It is Kastanian. His guitar work is overarching everything with an exceptional structural sense. There is melodic-harmonic surprise at every turn. And the compositions have a real twist to them.

It is Brian in a quartet setting. Miles Griffith's mostly wordless vocals are a thing apart, articulating the complex melodic lines like nobody else, scatty and musically strong, yet very off the wall in the way he mumbles, grumbles, and musically growls the lines.

Steve Rust on bass and Peter O'Brien on drums are very important to the sound, too. They play some beautiful lines both as composition-realizations and as improvisation-openness.

I must say that there is something astonishing going on here, on the fringes of involved rock but most definitely within the reinvented confines of it all.

Holy cripes! This is DIFFERENT. Get your ears on it, definitely.

Monday, January 23, 2017

ROJI, The Hundred Headed Woman


The duet-plus-guests configuration of ROJI, as we hear on The Hundred Headed Woman (ShhPuma 023) makes for a compelling and joyful noise thanks to the throughly musical avant timbre and tone of electric bassist Goncalo Almeida and the fully aware timbral depth and rolling creativity of drummer Jorg A. Schneider. The addition of Susana Santos Silva on trumpet for around half the album and baritone saxophonist Colin Webster for the other half fleshes out the sound without decreasing the very large presence of Almeida's bass or the rolling thunder of Schneider's drums.

In either case Silva's trumpet or Webster's baritone adds to the remarkable frenetics of ROJI without subtracting the hugeness of the duo in the least. Only one cut features the duo as duo. But we do not, or at least I do not feel anything but the rigor of electric-boosted continuity from first to last.

It sounds like Goncalo is playing a five- or six-string electric much of the time, as there is the deepness of the amped-up bass tones plus sometimes a counterline played in the upper range of the instrument, with or without a slide but in any event more guitar than bass-like. In either case Goncalo gives us a distinct avant fullness that is original as it is bracing.

The entire album rockets forth with great energy, noise, and timbre. It is as much psychedelic-laced rock as it is new thing and new music. And it is not just that they do this consistently but that they also do it so well.

In this extraordinarily fragile and frankly disturbing age we live in ROJI transcends the instability of the present with fearless musical courage.

And to me it signals the need to stop questioning an avant garde whose conviction that what they are doing is worthwhile and right comes at a time when many of these artists have little or nothing to gain from devoting a lifetime to evolving their sound. Fame they do not get. Money perhaps very little. There is sincerity and great talent in the best. You can hear that in ROJI. Celebrate a free world creativity! Get this album and play it!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Joshua Breakstone, The Cello Quartet, 88

Guitar jazz adept Joshua Breakstone returns with his Cello Quartet for a look at some fine composer-pianists within the hard-bop and related jazz idioms of the fifties and early sixties on 88 (Capri 74144-2). Pieces deserving a new look combine with some fine swinging modern jazz soloing from a top-notch group.

Breakstone is a fine chordal colorist and an excellent lining soloist who combines smarts and soul. Mike Richmond adds much to this quartet with nicely thought through pizzicato lines in a post-Pettiford manner. Lisle Atkinson's bass and Andy Watson's drums give the set a groovingly solid foundation at all times.

Breakstone gives a tributory nod to the pianists in his original "88." From there we get a worthy handling of some beautiful and lately somewhat or completely neglected masterpieces: Mabern's "The Chief," Clark's "News for Lulu," Walton's "Black," Waldron's "Soul Eyes," Hope's "Moe is On," Harris' "Lolita," Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," and Tristano's "Lennie's Pennies."

The combination of the pianistic classic repertoire and the Cello Quartet instrumentation gives us a very fresh take and some very nice playing. This is surely one of Breakstone's best and I suspect any jazz loving listener out there will find plenty to like.

Very recommended!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mili Bermejo, Dan Greenspan, arte del duo

In jazz the duo may be one of the most challenging configurations. It does not give you that absolute open form of the unencumbered individual, but neither does it provide an extensive backdrop for the solo. When you have a duo of voice and contrabass there are further challenges. These sorts of thoughts recede to the back of your mind, though, when you listen to vocalist Mili Bermejo and bassist Dan Greenspan carry forth on their recent album arte del duo (Ediciones Pentagrama 707).

These are song form excursions. Many (around half) were written by Mili and they are sparkling, but she also falls into wordless improvising and sometimes, something in between. Her songs are substantial but then she takes on some others (that you might know) and in every instance gives it all a vocal presence that is beautifully original.

Dan Greenspan plays excellent bass here as well. He works within the implied changes of any given tune and delivers an exceptionally mindful set of bass parts/improvs that define the duo as much as Mili does vocally.

There is a South American lilt to it all, not always quite bursting into full rhythmic cadence as much as they allude to what they hear but leave out. Then again, they sometimes let loose with the linear heat they have internalized and so we feel a thrusting forth as well as a hiding and a conscious partial erasure,

This is pure brilliance!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ian Faquini & Paula Santoro, Metal na Madeira

Anyone who loves Brazilian samba jazz as I do will welcome Metal na Madeira (Ridgeway 005) by Ian Faquini & Paula Santoro. Ian wrote all the music for the album and it is excellent. He plays a well-put-together rhythmically and harmonically vital acoustic guitar in the idiom appropriate for this music. Paula Santoro is in charge of the vocals and she is brilliant in the role.

The minimal of the two together is supplemented on the various songs, respectively, by bass plus drums and percussion, or accordion and pandeiro, or drums, or electric piano, drums, bass, horns and backing vocals, or accordion, or clarinet. Everyone does the right thing to forward the music beautifully.

This is far and above one of the nicest samba jazz outfits I've heard in years. And the originals have everything going for them, as do Paula's vocals and Ian's acoustic.

Wow! Do not miss this one!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Eric St-Laurent, Planet

From Canada we have electric guitarist Eric St-Laurent and his album Planet (Katzenmusik 06). The trio-quartet involved is a nice conflation of St-Laurent's picking and plying axe combined with a woody and solid bass from Jordan O'Connor, nicely gauged percussion from Michel DeQuevido and when he is playing, some interesting piano from Attila Fias.

They do originals and classics like "Donna Lee," and it all sounds bright and contemporary. A big surprise is the theme from Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8, Second Movement. It works.

In the end we hear a guitarist who goes his own way, convincingly, and a band that sounds fresh and can PLAY.

I plan to post much more on here this year. I ran into snags the last half of 2016 which I hope are remedied! Onward.