Archive for the ‘jazz’ Category

Hundred-word Reviews: January 2015, Part 2

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

There’s a never-ending stream of new music, so it’s time once again for some hundred-worders to work off some of my backlog. As always, these all deserve full reviews, but with limited time and resources, 100 words will have to do. I’ll cut to the chase. Today it’s a wide assortment of music, from rock to jazz to Americana.


Keith Emerson & Greg Lake – Live From Manticore Hall
It would seem that the days of Emerson, Lake and Palmer are gone forever; other than their one-off reunion several years ago, they’ve all moved on to other things. That said, one of those other things was a 2010 concert series featuring the keyboardist and the guitarist/vocalist. This CD documents that dinner-theatre styled tour; there’s no Manticore Hall; this show was recorded in Connecticut. Toned-down readings – with less synthesizer than you’d expect – of the many classics from the ELP catalog are showcased here, and a lovely version of “I Talk to the Wind” recalls Lake’s King Crimson days.


The Satisfactors – The Satisfactors
This quartet plays rock’n'roll of the old-fashioned variety: power chords, shouted and swaggering vocals, songs about women, and so forth. Fans of stripped-down yet clever songwriting – think of The Romantics, Smithereens and the like – will appreciate the back-to-basics approach of The Satisfactors. An arena-rock feel is applied to songs that recall 70s punk, New York variety. Rolling Stones and Mott the Hoople sensibility shines through on tunes like the self-explanatory “I Love Girls.” Something about these guys reminds me of Donnie Iris (“Ah! Leah!”) but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Either way, it’s fun stuff.


Dylan Howe – Subterranean: New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin
Using music from one of David Bowie‘s most fascinating periods – his Berlin years which borne “Heroes,” Low and Lodger – seems like an intriguing approach for a new album. But presenting those songs – most of which are quite static and impressionistic, owing to Brian Eno‘s involvement – in a jazz idiom is downright odd. But that’s the idiosyncratic concept at work on this album from drummer Dylan Howe. The drummer’s dad (a certain Steve Howe) guests on one track, but not on guitar. My advice is to ignore the Bowie connection and instead enjoy the arrangements for what they are.


The Psycho Sisters – Up On the Chair, Beatrice
Near-lifelong friends Susan Cowsill (The Cowsills, Continental Drifters) and Vicki Peterson (Bangles, Continental Drifters) have worked together extensively, but Up On the Chair, Beatrice is the first collaborative album from the duo. Not rock a la Bangles (save for “Numb”), and not especially Americana-leaning as were Continental Drifters, the music here resembles a baroque, pop-centric rethink of The Roches. Quite varied in texture, the album is full of delights. “Never Never Boys” is reminiscent of the criminally-overlooked Cowsills album, Global, though it has a more countrified feel. Think of The Psycho Sisters as a sort of distaff Holsapple and Stamey.


The Apache Relay – The Apache Relay
The sweeping, majestic strings that open “Katie Queen of Tennessee” will pull you in, right from the get-go; there’s a depth of emotionality that’s conveyed by the string arrangement, a sort of modern Phil Spector wall of sound that adds dimension to the otherwise Americana styling of this Nashville band. If they never did anything beyond that opening track, they’d be noteworthy. But their self-titled debut is filled with goodies that combine the modern folkie-ness of Fleet Foxes with the studio-as-instrument aesthetic of SMiLE-era Brian Wilson. They’ll play Asheville February 28; look for more about them closer to that date.

More capsule reviews to come.

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Hundred-word Reviews: January 2015, Part 1

Monday, January 26th, 2015

There’s a never-ending stream of new music, so it’s time once again for some hundred-worders to work off some of my backlog. As always, these all deserve full reviews, but with limited time and resources, 100 words will have to do. I’ll cut to the chase. Today it’s five acts nominally in the jazz/fusion/prog genres, all with names that will sound odd to American ears.


Tohpati – Tribal Dance
If you dig melodic guitar shredding that mixes jazz fusion and rock, do check out this album from Indonesian guitarist Tohpati. In places his clean chording and single-note runs are reminiscent of Eric Johnson, but with a heavier bottom end. That heaviness is thanks to his rhythm section on Tribal Dance: bassist Jimmy Haslip and former Frank Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman. Tohpati also sometimes sounds like Jeff Beck – especially the latter’s mid 70s material – but the album’s overall sound is imbued with an Eastern sensibility that certainly adds interest. Mainstream enough for rock fans, adventurous enough for jazzers.


Xavi Reija – Resolution
Leonardo Pavkovic‘s MoonJune label is responsible for a surprisingly high volume of new music, and the label’s quality standard is quite high overall. Here’s yet another. Catalan (Spain) drummer Xavi Reija is nominally the session’s leader, but musical cohorts Bernat Hernandez and guitarists Dusan Jevtovic do plenty of heavy lifting as well. Jazz sensibility applied to thickly chorded rock riffage, engagingly busy basswork and expressive, precise percussion are the hallmarks of this eleven-track instrumental album. Several tracks push the eight-minute mark, taking their time to develop. In turns forceful and contemplative, Resolution is a deeply textured collection of post-rock tunes.


Molé – RGB
Everything from ECM-styled atmospheric jazz to funky, uptempo workouts is explored on this trio album. Featuring keyboardist Mark Aanderud, electric bassist Stomu Takeshi, and Hernan Hecht on drums, RGB is delightfully varied for a piano trio. At times – as on “Trichromatic” – the melody is buried in a flurry of notes, but the musicians don’t seem to be improvising: they give a real sense of knowing where they’re going on each track. The cuts are occasionally punctuated by some strange sound effects, but that other-worldliness is offset by the impressionistic, pastoral textures of “Winip,” and the surprisingly melodic “Freelance.”


Jü and Kjetil Møster – Jü Meets Møster
The cover art on this disc is reminiscent of Lasse Hoile‘s nightmarish, dreamscape-like photography work for Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson. Musically, it’s something else altogether. Guest saxophonist Kjetil Møster starts things off out front, leading the listener away from anticipation of the skronky, fleet-fingered distorted guitar work of Àdàm Mézáros that is to follow. At times, the group sounds like an unholy amalgam of punk, prog and jazz. But it works, and well. At times, Møster’s sax sounds like an electric violin. This album is crazy, weird, and worthwhile, but probably not designed for the less adventurously inclined listener.


Trio 3 + Vijay Iyer – Wiring
This release is neither fusion nor post-rock; instead, it’s nearly seventy minutes of modern jazz. All eleven tracks are originals, variously composed by the participants: alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, pianist Vijay Iyer, Reggie Workman on bass, and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Lake and Iyer tend to be out front on these compositions that range from tuneful, MJQ-styled pieces to weedy, atonal skronk like Workman’s “Synapse II.” Though the English-language presskit doesn’t mention it (the German translation does), “guest pianist” Iyer was a 2013 recipient of one of those MacArthur Foundation “genius grants.” His lovely “Willow Song” is almost Gershwinesque in places.

More capsule reviews to come.

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Best of 2014: Books

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Musoscribe isn’t strictly a music features, interviews and reviews blogzine; because I am constantly reading at least one book – and because as often as not, it’s a music-related book – I review several books each year. 2014 has been no exception (and there are three more on my desk right now for future review). These four are my favorite new music-related books of this year.

Who Killed Mister Moonlight? by David J. (Haskins)
The story of goth-rockers Bauhaus could have no better chronicler than the witty and deeply thoughtful David J. The bassist for that band (and then Love and Rockets, and then a reanimated Bauhaus) tells that story, but in some ways it’s merely the backdrop for Haskins’ larger story. Readers will come away with a better understanding of what Bauhaus was all about, and – perhaps more importantly – an appreciation for the role each member played in bringing it all together. Haskins’ unnerving forays into the occult make uncomfortable reading, but you’ll likely not be able to put the book down until you’re finished.

One Way Out by Alan Paul
There are many ways to tell a tale. Alan Paul‘s approach is perhaps not unique, but it is certainly well-suited to his subject matter. When one is dealing with a story as sprawling as that of The Allman Brothers Band, it’s inevitable that there will be at least as many perspectives as there are characters in the story. It’s a mark of Paul’s skill that he weaves those disparate (and sometimes polar opposite) perspectives together into a cohesive narrative. One Way Out might not make all camps happy (Gregg Allman wrote his own book, for example) but the author seems not to have an ax to grind; he stays out of the way and lets the key figures tell the story.

Joe Meek’s Bold Techniques by Barry Cleveland
Barry Cleveland is an innovative musician in his own right; coupling that background with his well-established writing/editing skills, his knack for research, and his insatiable curiosity, this book explores the work of Joe Meek. Pointedly not focusing on Meek’s personal problems and the more sensational and lurid aspects of his story, Cleveland instead points the reader in the direction of Meek’s undeniably forward-thinking work in the recording studio. That Meek succeeded at all seems against all odds, but the author helps the reader understand not only why he did, but how. A fascinating read.

The Evolution of Mann by Cary Ginell
Part of author Cary Ginell‘s literary mission in life seem to be to rehabilitate certain jazz figures, ones who – for one reason or another – fall more into the “popular” category. As such, his biography of flautist Herbie Mann is right in line wit those goals. Mann is often thought of as a genre-jumping opportunist, but as Ginell illustrates, Mann was an early exponent of what we now know as world music. And he was no dilettante: his forays into other genres were fueled by genuine interest. An excellent guide into the flautist’s work and deep catalog.

More best-ofs coming tomorrow.

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Album Review: Conte Candoli — Sincerely, Conte

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

This is a straight CD (and vinyl) reissue of a 1954 jazz date featuring the recorded headlining debut of trumpeter Conte Candoli (though curiously, the album cover – also a straight reproduction of the original – spells his first name wrong. Candoli leads an energetic quartet – lots of showy drum work here, courtesy Stan Levey – through an uptempo selection of tunes. Candoli and band are interpreters of the work of others; here you’ll find lively readings of numbers from the Gershwins along with other standards. It’s another high quality Bethlehem reissue from the Naxos folks; collect ‘em all!

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Album Reviews: Hugh Hopper — Memories and Frangloband

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Bassist Hugh Hopper gained fame – or what passes for fame within the narrow confines of jazz-rock and progressive circles – as a member of Soft Machine. He passed away in 2009, and it happens, Hopper was apparently quite the busy guy. His estate is now involved in a good bit of closet-cleaning, and the results are being released on a ten-disc series. The first of these, Memories, is a survey of the material found on the second through tenth. It’s varied and interesting, though little of this music was intended for release. Frangloband documents some of Hopper’s last recordings.

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Album Review: Wadada Leo Smith et. al. — Red Hill

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Lots of people I know – the ones who like jazz, anyway – tend to prefer Miles Davis‘ music best from the era around Birth of the Cool. Me, as a rock guy, I’m much more fascinated with the work he did around the time of Jack Johnson. And this avant jazz album from trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith sounds to these ears like that exploratory-era Miles, without John McLaughlin (or anyone, for that matter) on guitar. I can’t define this music much more sharply, but if you dig the musical references, you’ll quite likely appreciate the music on Red Hill.

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Album Review: Interstatic — Arise

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Jimmy Smith more or less invented the concept of organ trio. But it’s unlikely he had anything in mind like Interstatic. Imagine a bluesy, jazzy trio with Hammond, guitar and drums, playing unclassifiable instrumental music. The foundation is straight-ahead – not a lot of uncomfortable time signatures here – but the solid bottom end gives plenty of space for some expressive organ and guitar work. That said, “Caerbannog” is nearly as hard to follow as it is to pronounce. Strong ensemble playing means that everybody’s doing their own thing, but it all holds together, just. Challenging, and somehow still accessible.

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Album Review: Antoine Fafard — Ad Perpetuum

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

One doesn’t often think of melding progressive rock elements with jazz fusion; at least not if one wants to break even on an album release. But that’s the approach favored by bassist Antoine Fafard. Combining the best of (dare I say) smooth jazz with rock’s muscularity, Fafard is aided in his efforts by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons) and, on one track, the multifarious Gary Husband (a frequent John McLaughlin collaborator and a jazz star in his own right). If Joe Satriani played keyboards and leaned a bit more in a jazz direction, he might sound like this.

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Album Review: Marbin — The Third Set

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Generally, I avoid reviewing more than one album by relatively unknown artists; even less often – never before, as far as I know – do I review two albums within the space of a year. But Marbin’s the real deal. Jazz-rock is a nearly meaningless term, so instead I might describe them as progressive rock band with jazz technique; they rock, and hard, but their precision is nothing short of stunning. And The Third Set is in fact a live album, combining studio production values with lots of feel and spontaneity. Dani Rabin‘s level of expression on guitar is stunning.

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Album Review: Thom Douvan — Brother Brother

Monday, December 15th, 2014


Thom Douvan – Brother Brother
A (perhaps) surprising number of the Detroit players known as The Funk Brothers were actually white guys. One of ‘em was guitarist Thom Douvan. In this 2014 album Douvan pays tribute to the team of session players in the form of an album full of cover tunes. Mostly done in a smooth (but not too smooth) jazz style, Brother Brother features readings of classic soul (and/or soulful) tunes from the likes of The Isley Brothers, Hall and Oates, Donny Hathaway and other greats. Imagine if Steely Dan played instro jazz covers, and you’ll have an idea of how this sounds.

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