Thursday, September 27, 2012

Szilard Mezei, Mint amikor tavasz, When Spring

Today we have a most unusual original solo disk. It's Szilard Mezei playing unaccompanied viola and contrabass in a series of improvisation/compositions. Mint amikor tavasz/When Spring (Not Two 819-2) gives us a kind of intimate glimpse into Szilard's musical thinking.

It follows the avant improvisational muse in a variety of modes and moods. There are tumbling abstract cascades, melodically strong avant line weaves, and things somewhere in between. Throughout a vivid sense of both freedom and original structure prevails.

On viola Mezei is an original voice with a fully deliberate intonation that veers sometimes a bit from the tempered scale, but in consistent and fascinating ways. On viola and on bass he plays music that virtually defines his vision of modernity. His bass playing is of a piece with his conception of the music, and turns out to be technically proficient as well, a nice surprise given its status as a second instrument for him.

This disk, allowing for a concentrated series of listens, will give you cogently Mezei's original brilliance in a bare-bones context. Fascinating! Recommended.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Spectrum Road, A Tribute to The Tony Williams Lifetime

When the Tony Williams Lifetime hit the ears of listeners in 1969 with their double-album release Emergency!, few people were prepared for it. Brilliant drummer Tony Williams had just left Miles Davis's band after a long tenure and was eager to try something of his own, something very different. He got together with then mostly unknown guitarist John McLaughlin and veteran organist Larry Young to make a music that was so unusual as to be inimitable. That first album sounded like nothing that had gone before. It was rock heavy yet rhythmically and harmo-melodically light years away from what was going on then. And Tony's vocals were...well they certainly weren't what you expected from jazz, rock or jazz-rock, as it was then known. The innovation took on life as improvisation, ensemble and song-form. It was NEW in the biggest sense, so much so that many audiences generally couldn't get on their wavelength when Lifetime first hit the venues.

Jack Bruce joined the band as the fourth member and bass-vocal powerhouse. The album Turn it Over followed. And it was a continuation of what they first set out to do. The band folded, Tony and Larry reformed with new members and the album Ego came to light, which had some masterpieces but was not completely on the level of what went before.

Many years have gone by since those days, and while those sides were enormously influential no band has ever come close to realizing the sound of the original Lifetime. Until now.

Jack Bruce has joined with guitarist Vernon Reid, organist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana to revisit the classic Lifetime music. The first CD is out, and they call themselves Spectrum Road (Palmetto).

They cover many of the significant numbers from the first three albums and one or two I do not recognize. Jack and Cindy do the vocals and the band gets it uncannily close in the ensemble to that original thrust. As individual players of significant clout, however, much of who they are, right now in 2012, individually and collectively, gets into the mix, especially in the solo sections. That's what you would expect and that's what works best in these sorts of situations, to my mind.

It's a very heady tribute to an incredibly important band, but more than that, it extends that original music in ways Tony would have liked. It's Lifetime music with the here and now built in.

And it's some landmark music, whichever way you look at it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sandra Nkake, Nothing for Granted

Sandra Nkake sings her own brand of soul, drawing on African roots freely, coming up with a blend all her own. Nothing for Granted (Jazz Village) showcases her music in moving ways. She has a distinctive vocal sound and her songs are equally singular. It's music of protest, love, intelligence.

It draws on soul roots but takes them in a new place, like Sade before, only as original and compelling in its own way.

This is music that cannot be easily described, except to say that it's Sandra Nkake music. Hear it!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mandingo Ambassadors, Tougna

Engine Records usually covers avant jazz, but they've got a kicking Afrobeat CD out, the Mandingo Ambassadors doing Tougna (Engine 047).

There's a rockingly hip foundation of electric bass, drums and conga-percussion, on top of which are some very hip guitarists, one who solos with style and facility. There are two wind players who can solo with plenty of credibility as well. Then there's the lead singer, Bebe Camara, who has the highlife-and-beyond style covered with soul. Mamady Kouyate is leader and one of the guitarists.

It's a West African sound, tempered by some of the classic Mid-African highlife classics. This is music that moves! A great record to get the party going, even if it's a party in your head.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Young, Dub Egg

The Young is a band. One of the ways you can tell is if they have a "The" before the name. But the moment you put their CD on the player, you know that this is a band, together in all the ways one hopes for.

It's a guitars-bass-drums-vocal outfit from Austin and Dub Egg (Matador) is their second album. I missed the first but must track it down after hearing this one.

It thrives on a lively interplay of all. The music is alt-indie-punkish fare with a hard-edged sound, vocals that have an informal, edgy faux insouciancy, and a very pleasing beyond-the-garage hardness tempered by song styling that fits the music-first-image-second persona of the band.

Those that still seek something real and undiluted in rockland should find these guys a good listen. I will file it under new serious rock outfits that most definitely do not s_ck!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cynthia Felton, Freedom Jazz Dance

There are new generations of singers on the scene now, lots of them. Few have the talent and capabilities of Cynthia Felton, as her new album Freedom Jazz Dance (Felton Entertainment 003) attests.

For this one she covers some great jazz and songbook standards like "Take Five," "Lost in the Stars," "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love," etc. She is well served by a cast of accompanists that include Cyrus Chestnut, Ernie Watts, Terri Lyne Carrington, Wallace Roney and other lesser known but no less sympathetic musicians. The arrangements are straightforward to allow her voice to shine brightly.

And it does. She has perfect intonation, soul, a charming sounding voice, beautiful phrasing, the ability to deviate convincingly from a straight rendering of the fake book sort, and she can scat nicely without relying upon it.

There's nothing bad to say about a singer like this! Sometimes she reminds me of a Syreeta Wright with more heft and jazz sensibility. This album showcases her considerable talents very nicely. A jazz singer for today she truly is. And the album is a gas to hear!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tim Carey, Room 114

Electric bassist-composer Tim Carey comes to the fore with his debut effort after a significant apprenticeship playing around Seattle and around the world with a varied cast of worthies that includes Julian Priester, George Cables, and others.

Room 114 (self-released TCM-001) is the disk. It puts together a mellow yet lively sort of fusion that branches out of Pat Metheny's later work but then goes its own way. Tim is joined by the lucid guitar of Brendan Odonnell, piano and keys by Eric Verlinde, drums and percussion by Jeff "Bongo" Bush and more drums on selected tracks by Tarik Abouzied. The band is on the mark and Tim contributes some very nice post-Jaco soloing.

The songs and ensemble riffing got my attention on first listen and they continue to do so. It's a tasteful blend that has a kick to it now and again and manages to stand out from the pack. Give it a listen!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Rash Behari Datta, Master of the Indian Sitar

Rash Behari Datta, as regular readers might recall, gave us a rather remarkable CD of ragas arranged for 20 sitars. He returns in a more conventional guise as the single soloist on Master of the Indian Sitar (ARC Music 2401).

For this date Datta has chosen a lengthy exposition on Raga Bilaskhani Todi, and a somewhat shorter one for Raga Mishra-Bhairavi. He is nicely seconded on tabla by Sanju Sahai.

This is not a disk of pyrotechical brilliance a la Banerjee or Shankar. It is a good exposition of the alap (out-of-tempo prelude) for each raga, followed by some elaborate GATs (compositional motifs) around which Datta improvises. The disk conveys a very strong mood and as such is a delight. Datta however does not establish himself here (and probably does not wish to do so) as a world-class virtuoso so much as a subtle exponent of the tradition.

The sound is very good too.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Adrian Benavides, Same Time Next Life

The multi-instrumentalist Adrian Benavides makes his solo debut with a jump-out-of-your speakers disk: Same Time Next Life (Unsung 016). Touch guitarist mastermind Markus Reuter shared the co-writing and co-production duties with Adrian. King Crimson's Pat Mastelotto supplied the heated drumming.

It's heavy music, music with an edge, post-prog with an attitude, metal with a brain. The music comes at you hard and full, much of the time, with a few lyric interludes for contrast. There is a bit of industrial in the mix but never in a formulaic way.

It's in expanded song form with vocals by Adrian, weaving around the theme of shock and bereavement of a father on the death of his daughter. In fact it is a personal response by Benavides to the stillborn birth of his daughter Valentina.

This is avant rock of a high order. It's a great example of places art rock is going today.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Carol Robbins, Moraga

Carol Robbins, jazz harpist. Moraga (Jazzcats 108) showcases her well in a sextet that includes Billy Childs, piano, Larry Koonse, guitar, and Gary Novak on drums.

This is a mix of Robbins originals and standards, done with enough space to show the Robbins harp style. She plays less consistently in the arpeggiated Alice Coltrane style, prefering a note-run-chordal approach much of the time. She is very good, tasteful, and beautiful to hear. Not every song she writes is a masterpiece but they generally serve her well. It's nice to hear a harpist of her caliber emerge, and to do so strongly at that.

This is an artist to watch!! I look forward to more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Chris Forsyth, Kenzo Deluxe

Kenzo Deluxe (Northern Spy 025) is all about one thing: making solo electric guitar music in a room, live (with digital delay to help things along). Chris Forsyth is the guitarist. If he is a technical wizard, he does not show it on this disk. This is more about weaving attractive rock progressions, riffs, and mesmerizing repetitions than it is about wowing you with prowess.

There is a psychedelic quasi-Indian raga rock aspect to it and there is a kind of super paired-down pulsating soundscape aspect too. Fripp and Eno minus Fripp...and Eno. Instead something else. Forsyth, musically naked. Making music that has a memorable quality. But very elemental, basically.

I am not going to tell you that Chris Forsyth is the next big thing. He no doubt isn't. Not at this point. What he is involves creativity and imagination. Oh and a sort of nervy rock starkness that is refreshing. He's not going to be one to trade fours with Pat Martino but he in some ways creates the art of rock for himself, anew, by sustaining an entire CD with just his guitar and his imagination. That's something.

Monday, September 10, 2012

John Abercrombie Quartet, Within A Song

I don't suspect I need to tell readers of this blog that John Abercrombie has been a major force, a major influence on jazz guitarists since sometime in the '70s. I listen to many new guitarists in the round of reviews I do, and I have become more impressed in recent years with just how influential he has become.

But as with many great artists there is no ONE John Abercrombie. He changes as he sees fit, both over time and from project to project. So his latest, Within A Song (ECM 2254) has a way about it quite different than, say, the first Gateway album he did with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette way back when. Yet it is still Mr. Abercrombie that comes through, all that he is as a musical artist, and what he plays here has some relation of course to his earlier output. Perhaps that is pretty obvious.

The new album puts John with tenor original Joe Lovano, bass master Drew Gress and Joey Baron, a drummer of great depth, fire and subtlety, depending on the project.

This is an album of standards and a few Abercrombie originals. It is music in an ultra-laid-back mode, a cool sort of approach. That doesn't mean that the players aren't reaching back for inspiration and well-conceived improvisations. They are.

Abercrombie has evolved his tone so that at the moment it is unmistakably him, as always, but so mellow as to seem to be closer on first listen to a Jim Hall than ever. Yet what he plays is all Abercrombie, all the time. And even his tone has a telling Ambercrombian fullness and twist. At any rate he is in top form and must be heard with some concentration to be appreciated. Lovano sounds great too as you might expect. Gress and Baron hit more lightly but no less profoundly than usual. And the whole thing swings big!

It's an album that reminds us why John Abercrombie is such a force today. And it's a great listen too!

Friday, September 7, 2012


Hey, WTF! That's my motto for the day. It fits perfectly with the band Starring and their Northern Spy release ABCDEFG-HIJKLMNOP-QRSTUV-WXYZ. The record label wisely put a sticker over the cover design because it has psychedelic graphics that are 100% unreadable. Now that's cool I guess. Cutting-edge graphic design has gradually eschewed the word content over the years so that in many cases it is no longer to be read, nor can it be. It's a kind of punk thing I suppose. And what counts for me of course is the music.

So let's turn to that. This is a very cool psychedelic-punk-prog hybrid band that rehearsed like the devil no doubt to get this album to sound the way it does. It has some pyrotechnical brilliance in it from keys and rhythm. The vocals tend to be attractive slacker girl punk in various guises, and there's something of Reich's "Four Organs" somehow in there, if you have any idea what I am talking about.

The band is Brooklyn-based, and that fits too. Brooklyn block-for-block right now is probably the creative capital of the United States and there's a WTF do what we want ethos that fits the kind of innovation being spawned over there (as opposed to the Jersey side, where "get the f outta here!" tends to be what comes to the forefront most frequently).

Anyway this is very cool music. Starring is doing something new with some earlier things without sounding retro in any way. That's not easy. It's good, though, seriously. Now who the f designed the cover??

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Alexandra Grimal Quartet, Andromeda

The avant echelons of the music often called jazz seems to be expanding continually. There is most certainly no one way to arrive at a group music. Alexandra Grimal and her Quartet, in the recent Andromeda (Ayler 127), gives us a distinctive take on the possibilities.

Alexandra writes and arranges a music of contrasts, quiet and sparse, then full and hard-hitting, solos, duets, trios and the full band in various settings, free and composed, and more besides.

The quartet is well-chosen. Alexandra plays tenor and soprano, Todd Neufeld acoustic and electric guitars, Thomas Morgan on double bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Each contributes strongly to the end result.

Tyshawn's drumming is something to listen to in itself. He is bold and orchestral at points, quietly subtle at others. Alexandra plays a thoroughly contemporary tenor and soprano, from the overblown rich overtones to the quietly breathy. Todd Neufeld is a model of understatement much of the time, always feeding band and listeners with lines and chords that are un-cliched and fresh. Thomas Morgan plays with detailed care, imaginative creativity and excellent technique.

The compositions for this album were put together while Alexandra was in residence at the MacDowell Colony in the US and have a well-wrought, open quality.

This is music that must be listened to closely. Its contrasts and twists will allude the casual listener, I suspect. Put the time in and you will find a most unusual quartet effort and an innovative approach to quartet improvisation-composition. Give it an ear!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Quintus McCormick, Still Called the Blues

Back for a new album is Chicago soul-bluesman Quintus McCormick with Still Called the Blues (Delmark 821). As with his previous albums this is old-school blues that rings true. Quintus sings, plays the guitar and writes the songs. He is joined by a grooving band for a set of solid blues fare.

This is music that has some of the urban and urbane qualities of the late Little Milton. Quintus' lead guitar has good classic heft, great phrasing and a slinky quality. Vocally he may be no Bobby Blue Bland in terms of power. It's fully the blues, it just isn't crafted to blow the roof off the house. He sounds like himself though, so that ends up being more important.

You like the real deal in soul blues? This one will get you in the good zone.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Zweiton, Form

Here is some expanding post-prog-metal-minimalism of the good kind. Zweiton makes its debut with Form (Unsung 4260139120864) presenting six instrumentals that go to nice places.

Zeiton is Alexander Paul Dowerk on the U8 Touch Guitar (playing guitar and bass parts via overdubs) and Alexis Paulus on drums, with added guests here and there on acoustic guitar, tuba and viola.

It's post-late-Crimson sounding at times, always musically rich and diverse, and it rocks. The ten-minute "9 Days of Tripping" is a complicated suite-like number and goes pretty far out there while still keeping with the advanced drumming pulsations. But it's all worthwhile. If you like lyrical outness with a metal kick, you will like this one for sure.