Guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson has had a wonderful and influential career, stretching over forty years from his work in Fairport Convention to a partnership with his then-wife Linda and finally a productive solo career. While he never achieved mainstream success, his droll wit and powerful guitar playing have brought him a strong following across the globe. Despite its title, this album is pretty evenly spread between hard-charging rockers and more introspective acoustic songs. He grabs the listener right off the bat with “Stony Ground” leading a taught electric band through a whiplash fast performance, balanced by lyrics about obsession and consequences. “Salford Sunday” dials back the instrumental intensity for a sad tale of lost whimsy set against a Sunday holiday. Thompson mines romantic regret and longing very well, his songwriting on the subject may be filled with pathos and bile but it is never maudlin or cloying. Also in this vein are the bitter and remorseful “Another Small Thing in Her Favor” and the dark, stormy yet ultimately hopeful tale, “Saving the Good Stuff For You.” Of course, he can’t resist twisting the knife a little bit, and “My Enemy” is a slow, haunting tale of long simmering hatred which has marinated to the point that the narrator can barely summon the strength to celebrate his rival’s failure. Lest things get too serious he goes back to the electric guitar with a sly nod and wink on “Good Things Happen to Bad People” which he assures us only lasts “for a while.” This was another typically excellent album from Richard Thompson, he is seemingly unable to make a poor one. The songwriting is equal to his best material, and the music either with a tight strung electric trio or winsome acoustic guitar is always engaging and exciting. Electric - amazon.com
Guitarist and conceptualist Pat Metheny returns to his “Orchestrion” format, controlling a wide variety of musical instruments via solenoids and pneumatics, via guitar commands as well as computer controls. It makes for quite a fascinating solo album when one musician is able to create a piece of music by improvising a core setting and then adding layer upon layer of instruments and finally using his guitar, improvising over it all. After performing a large number of concerts in this setting, Metheny has released a DVD of the Orcrestion and this double CD set. The music covers a wide range of material from Pat Metheny Group style lyricism, to ballads and tracks with a more intense improvisational component. "Improvisation 1" and "Improvisation 2" show the project at its best, where the backing is open and allows Metheny to improvise in a very forceful and direct manner. "Orchestrion" is the centerpiece do the album, a fifteen minute suite like construction anchoring the end of disc one. Building on layer upon layer of percussion, keyboard and bass allows Metheny to finally move over and around this construction on his guitar while at the same time directing and positioning the backing and conceptual nature of the music. His approach to ballads on the album is exemplified by "Antonia" and "Soul Search" with the former developing the Achilles heel of projects like this, in which the layers and strata of the music built one atop the other begin to become a little fussy, and stifle the natural sense of breathing that would allow a slower paced piece of music to develop naturally. The latter track works a little bit better, reducing the accompaniment to spare bass and drums. The was certainly an interesting project, and the technology is fascinating. Some good and memorable music was made, but taking the element of human interaction out of the equation seems to make the whole less than the sum of its parts. The Orchestrion Project - amazon.com
In 2011, saxophonist, clarinetist and visual artist Peter Brotzmann was given the opportunity to curate a music and art festival in Wels, Austria to mark the occasion of his 70th birthday. He invited some of his favorite colleagues, and had the musicians play in settings old and new while the tapes rolled and the music for this remarkable package were captured. Brotzmann does not play in every ensemble but he is responsible for bringing the musicians together and inviting such longstanding groups as the DKV Trio with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson sitting in to up the ante. Brotzmann’s legendary Chicago Tentet has two sets, one with the great Danish saxophonist John Tchicai sitting in, and then a very moving performance dedicated to those affected by the Fukushima disaster. Brotzmann is represented in some fascinating settings including a nearly mainstream context with bassist Eric Revis and drummer Nasheet Waits. Full Blast is a riotous completely improvised trio where Brotzmann is driven onward with strong drums and overdriven electric bass. Vibist Jason Adasiewicz has become a frequent collaborator of late and he and Brotzmann play a fascinating textural set in a trio format. Long Story Short - amazon.com
This studio LP was recorded the day before Weiss’ band was recorded live for two subsequent albums, and it makes a tidy companion piece for the trilogy of this particular group. The band consists of David Weiss on trumpet, J.D. Allen on tenor saxophone, Nir Felder on guitar, Luques Curtis on bass and Jamire Williams on drums. Naming the group after a famous Andrew Hill album Point of Departure, clues you in that this band is interested in adventurous hard bop performances that allow plenty of soloing opportunities for members of the group, sometimes sounding like a relay race of solo statements.“I Have a Dream” features a well-constructed medium tempoed trumpet solo with gentle guitar comping and deft drumming. Allen’s saxophone enters at a low flame and makes a solid statement as the drums continue to simmer below. A low-toned serpentine guitar solo snakes its way through before the whole group comes together once again.Weiss and Allen harmonize very well together on “Black Comedy” with the leader punching through the fog for a potent solo. A witty improvisation is built into “Number 4” which features Allen with an agile and questioning saxophone solo, straining at the form of the music. The band throttles back dynamically and leaves a wide open space for Williams to solo with patience and tact. The group mines a modern hard-bop vibe on “Venture Inward” with the leader's trumpet having an immediate and forceful impact. Felder keeps things moving with a flowing even-keeled guitar interlude. This was a well done and exploratory, recording where the group pushes the limits of the hard-bop idiom, working very well as an ensemble and allowing each member of the group to demonstrate their skills in solo statements. The music here is modernized hard-bop polished to a sparkling shine. It’s not glib however, they mean every note and play for keeps. Venture Inward - amazon.com
Saxophonist Sean Nowell raised some eyebrows last year with an excellent mainstream post-bop jazz album called Stockholm Swinigin'. This new album approaches things from a different direction, leaving the world of buttoned down bop behind to import aspects of fusion, funk and pop into the mix. Along with Nowell on tenor saxophone, the Kung-Fu Masters are: Brad Mason on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, Art Hirahara and Adam Klipple on keyboards, Evan Marien on bass and Marko Djordjevic on drums. Jimi Hendrix's rock anthem "Crosstown Traffic" is a highlight of the album with the horns replacing the amplified and distorted guitar riffs of the original recording, and the music barrels along at a breakneck pace. "In The Shikshteesh" allows for interesting work from the keyboard players, from synth to electric piano, they frame the sound of the music. There is a cool retro 1970's funk vibe to "The Outside World" with punchy horns and dirty sounding keyboards conjuring up the grit of a city at the and of a busy day. Fans of the music that the late Donald Byrd recorded with the Mizell Brothers in the 1970's will be right at home here. Some of the irreverence in the packaging of this disc might be a little misleading. This is not a frivolous album, but a set of music that draws from wildly diverse influences like martial arts movies, comic books and video games to push Nowell's music into a new and unusual direction. Purists may turn away, but it is their loss, as the group is never disrespectful to the history of jazz but rather looks far afield for inspiration and material, and plays it an accessible and forthright manner. I hope the band has a chance to do some form of multi-media project along these lines, that would be a lot of fun to see. The Kung-Fu Masters - Posi-Tone Records. (Release Date Mar. 26)
Percussionist and composer John Hollenbeck has a restless spirit which he has harnessed to lead several groups from the inventive Claudia Quintet to his own large ensemble. On this album he goes in a different direction, using the unique vocal talents of Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band to present re-arrangements to pop and jazz songs that have caught his ear over the years. “Wichita Lineman” shows how this setting of musicians can transform a rather maudlin pop song into something more interesting. The two singers trade different pieces of the song, and they have a very clear tone to their voices which can rise nicely as the band swells to a crescendo. “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” is stretched way out, taken beyond its folk and country (and science-fiction) roots. The use of the radio big band is very important to this song, because of the wide range of sound and color that is made available to build textures which frame the lyrics. The broad sound and the emotion that McGarry brings to the reading of the song seems to suggest that this arrangement would be as comfortable as part of a Broadway musical as a jazz performance. After the comparatively lush songs that preceded it, “Man of Constant Sorrow” comes as a rather bracing surprise. The music comes hard and fast and Bleckmann’s vocal with McGarry shadowing him digs deep into the despair and longing that is the core of the song. Equally bracing and surprising is the cover of Queen’s 7-inch 1978 single “Bicycle Race” where the riotous singing seems to jump right out of the speakers. The instrumental playing is choppy and exciting, pushing the song and the singers ever forward. (The b-side of “Bicycle Race” was “Fat Bottomed Girls.” I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this band can reconvene and cover that song on a follow-up album.) This was a very interesting album that melded a number of disparate parts into a cohesive whole. Combining pop music, jazz and touches of cabaret, Hollenbeck has created a unique and accessible form of music that defies ready classification. Songs I Like a Lot - amazon.com
This is an album of power trio music, touching on jazz fusion and progressive rock where the guitar, bass and drums recall The Mahavishnu Orchestra and Nels Cline Singers, and their music is powerful and complex. The group consists of Tim Young on guitar, Devin Hoff on bass and the leader Dylan Ryan on drums. The use of electric guitar allows for varying degrees of texture within a piece of music and the band exploits this open sense of possibility throughout the album. "Mayan Sun" and "White Magic" are two short pieces of blistering fast paced electricity that could be called "punk jazz" for the lack of a better term due to the hard-hitting power and brief length. The eerie "Soft Rain on a Dead Sea" and the set ending title track "Sky Bleached" use longer and more colorful pastel shaded tones of music that bend and refract the music in different directions, making for a larger palette of sound, rhythm and dynamic nature available to the musicians. The ability to sculpt noise and use it as a vehicle for transmitting improvised ideas is at the heart of the music on this album. All three musicians work very well together, making the best of their great skill and dynamic volume and avoiding any pitfalls of overindulgence. This is a well done album that defies easy categorization and invites investigation by a wide range of listener. Sky Bleached - amazon.com
Curtis Hasselbring, a Brooklyn based trombonist and composer, became interested in the concept of shortwave radio number stations. Blasts of enigmatic words, numbers and code make fertile ground for an open minded jazz group to cover, and the group on this album consists of Mary Halvorson on guitar, Trevor Dunn on bass, Matt Moran on vibes and marimba, Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet and Ches Smith and Satoshi Takeishi on drums. The band makes very dynamic music that will shift between mood and texture at will with gradations and subtlety. “Tux is Traitor” opens with probing bass with percussion and vibes built on that foundation. Mary Halvorson’s guitar ramps up the pace and develops a complex interplay amongst the instruments with saxophone soaring over mindful and present drumming. Strong pulsating drums, vibes and accompanying guitar snarls kick “Green Dress, Maryland Welcome Center, 95 NB” of to a thrilling start. After a great sound-sculpting guitar solo, the music mysteriously ratchets down dramatically to an eerie calm. The short “Avoid Sprinter” is a bracing blast of pulsating drums, vibes and trombone, leading into the album ending “37° 56' 39'' by 111° 32” which has percussion laying the foundation for Hasslebring’s trombone to arc overhead, pulling along a cool guitar riff. The music resolves itself with a solid backbeat, around which swirling trombone, vibes and bass orbit. Number Stations - amazon.com
Cornetist and composer Rob Mazurek always manages to put together fascinating projects and this one is no different. Combining musicians from his Exploding Star Orchestra and Sao Paulo Underground groups, the music sounds wholly new, hinting at the Sun Ra Arkestra and mid-70’s Miles Davis, but always striking out into new territory. “Galactic Ice Skeleton” develops a throbbing full sound with horns, vibes, flute and strong drumming creating a kaleidoscopic sound pallette. Mazurek’s cornet enters the fray accompanied by sawing bow before the music fades to a gentle conclusion. A spacey, hypnotic feel imbues “Passing Light Screams” which grows a vibraphone and cornet duet which concludes with an ominous rumble and a dramatic science fiction-esque conclusion. “Keeping the Light Up” is short but extremely powerful with solo vibes rolling in gracefully clearing a path for swirling flute and sawing bow. Mazurek’s cornet punches through the thicket aided and abetted by snarling electronics and guitar and resolving into a torrid finish. According to Cuneiform, the idea that led to the album began when Mazurek was requested to write music to accompany an exhibition about Miles Davis. He elected to form his own group and compose his own suite and this excellent album is the result. Skull Sessions - amazon.com
In-between trumpeter Miles Davis’ second great quintet and his full immersion fusion phase, he lead a fascinating group that came to be called the “lost quintet.” Consisting of Davis on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano saxophones, Chick Corea on keyboards, Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, the group toured widely in the summer and fall of 1969, never recording in the studio, but being recorded live for radio or television broadcast several times in Europe. The recordings are valuable, because they open a window and show how rapidly the their music was evolving during this period. Davis had cracked his music wide open playing with Tony Williams in the previous quintet, and the musical landscapes become even more vivid here, with Corea’s amplified keyboards, DeJohnette’s dynamic drumming and Shorter’s enigmatic snake-charmer saxophone. Their selections are a fascinating mix of older compositions that Davis had been playing for years, well known anthems like his own “Milestones” and Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and the then unreleased compositions that would mark his early electronic albums. “Directions,” which is played on three of the four sets is explosive, with Davis leading the way in torrid bursts of sound, while the band roars like a rocket bound for liftoff. Despite having this power at their control, the group was very tight, weaving their songs together into a continuous whole and proceeding from melody to melody as Davis queued the themes. That they are able to shift gears so well between different compositions and widescreen improvisations is a testament to this band’s power and grace. This boxed set consists of three compact discs containing concerts from France and Sweden and then a DVD with a concert from Berlin. The sound quality may not be so hot (these were bootlegs after all) but the performance quality is out of sight. Not to be missed. Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol 2 - amazon.com
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Harper has had an excellent career both as a solo artist and a leader of his Innocent Criminals band. He has investigated many genres from rock to funk to reggae, but all the while the blues has been at the core of his music. Looking to investigate this path even further he invited harmonica legend Charlie Musslewhite to join him on an album that investigates all of the facets of the blues. Harper has always been a very thoughtful songwriter and this album is no different, featuring the likes of "It Can't End This Way" with its soaring gospel feeling and the stark, haunting anti-war ballad "I Ride at Dawn." the blistering "I Don't Believe a Word You Say" has Harper's storming electric guitar, with Mussleshite's swooping harp riding shotgun as he calls out liars and thieves. "All That Matters Now" and "You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)" strip back the music back to acoustic guitar and harmonica, and Harper's deeply expressive voice. This album worked very well, Harper and Musslewhite developed a complementary musical relationship that brought out the best in the music and lyrics and made them quite powerful. Get Up! - amazon.com
Guapo is a band that melds progressive rock to jazz fusion and delivers a potent wallop of powerful electric music over the course of three long tracks (with three more live tracks added on the CD/DVD combo version of the album.) The band is made up of David J. Smith on drums, Kavus Torabi on guitar, James Sedwards on bass and Emmett Elvin on keyboards. Taking the complicated prog rock of King Crimson and the like and melding it to the powerhouse improvisational spirit of the Mahavishnu Orchestra leads to tracks like the opener, “The Pilman Radiant,” which ebbs and flows over the course of twenty six minutes of complex musicianship while "Tremors of the Future" adds aspects of the Sun Ra Arkestra to the mix, creating a moody and unusual soundscape.The cross between improvised and composed sections of the music seems one of the major strengths of the band and keeps the music flowing in a manner that is highly detailed. The band seems to revel in this in-between space, creating challenging music that doesn't allow itself to be easily categorized. History Of The Visitation - amazon.com
Mal had done whatever it took to escape the swamp. He wasn't even supposed to grow up there. When his parents were killed in a car wreck in the deep bayou, they died, but he was rescued by a "witchy woman" who taught him the spells, lore and magic of the swamp. But now he is being called back by family that is not blood, but kin just the same. The dead have begun to rise in the swamp, and the witchy woman who raised Mal and his "sister" Bel is of no use - her grave is empty too. So Mal reruns to a land of meth labs and moonshine, of alarming genetic mutations like his adoring half-fish half-man cousin. As the dead shamble and stalk, tittering and giggling at some unknown joke, Mal must solve the mystery: could this be the work of nature or science? An "autogenesis" that uses the corpses as a shell or is it just pure evil. Mal and his clan have to make a stand when the zombies attack their shack. Will they stay and fight or go out and face the unknown? Tom Piccirilli is a master at stories like these building wonderfully emotive characters, and developing a claustrophobic setting that ratchets the tension to the limit.View all my book reviews.
This rare album is a collaboration of pianist Schlippenbach’s regular trio consisting of tenor and soprano saxophonist Evan Parker and percussionist Paul Lovens with American bassist Alan Silva. The music is composed of two LP side length collective free improvisations, “Ore” and “Anticlockwise” which make use of a wide variety of approaches to keep the music continually interesting. Parker's lines are swooping and swaying, particularly on the soprano saxophone, where he had developed a post-Coltrane approach to the instrument all his own. Schlippenbach will hang back, creating a foundation for the group and then suddenly spring forward for quick and strong hammered phrases that are both stark and startling. This album was only released on vinyl in 1983, and is now available through Destination-Out’s store as a download.
Tenor and soprano saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter is one of the great enigmas of jazz. He falls into no camp: bop, hard-bop, fusion, he's played them all, but those labels all fall by the wayside to his singular vision. This is the third album he has made with his longstanding group of Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums. This is a live album from their 2011 tour, with old compositions and new ones remade in the moment. "Orbits" opens the album with dark piano and abstract swirls of saxophone, developing into a collective improvisation that hints at the melody during their freewheeling improvisation. Heavy piano and bass open up a spacious musical landscape on "Starry Night." Perez's ripe piano is very important to to the texture of this song, with Shorter switching briefly to tenor saxophone to add strong accents. Edgy and intense stuccato blasts of piano and drum fire as saxophone arcs overhead. "S.S. Golden Mean" is an uptempo performance lead by very happy sounding soprano saxophone, and there is great sympathetic interplay between Shorter and Perez which anchors this song. After an exciting collective improvisation, Patitucci takes a bass solo as the other three lower their volume just a hair. "Pegasus" is the centerpiece of the album, a 23 minute performance where the quartet is augmented by the Imani Winds, a quartet that adds subtle texture and framing to Shorter's composition and the group's improvisation. The music opens with a fanfare that becomes more powerful and resonant as the quartet builds in. The leader sees joyous fascination in the possibilites offered by this configuration, and the quartet flexes its muscles amidst the larger concept. "Flying Down to Rio" is the album's one non-original, a song from an old movie that film buff Shorter had seen. It starts in a mellow fashion, but then as is the want of the group, they begin to twist and turn the source material like clay, taking liberties and shaping and molding the music into something scarcely recognizable as the originally melody but quite fascinating in its own right. The magic of this particular group is that they take nothing for granted. Everything is approached as a blank slate which can be painted on by the colors, hues and textures that the musicians find in the moment. It can be imposing stuff, but upon close listening there are moments of exhilaration. Without A Net - amazon.com