Friday, October 31, 2014

Richard Pinhas, Oren Ambarchi, Tikkun

When you hear music that corresponds to music you hear in your own head there is a special connection. One of those musics is certainly the album Tikkun (Cuneiform CD & DVD set). It is one of two exceptional recent duet outings featuring guitarist Richard Pinhas. For this one he is joined by guitarist Oren Ambarchi, notable for his work with Sunn.

Tikkun has the ambience of Fripp and Eno at their best but the drive of ultra-psychedelic trance music. Pinhas's Heldon band of the '70s and his later collaboration with noise-ologist Merzbow have something formative to do with this CD work and its live DVD companion. Yet the results here are on an adjacent, yet differing planet.

It is maximalism. It is a thick heady crust of riff, bash, drone, scronk and otherwise feedback drenched sustained electricity. Ambarchi and Pinhas hit it off together. So much so that their playing blends into an orchestral wash such that one cannot tell the two apart. This matters not, because the music is incredibly cosmic.

Ambarchi and Pinhas achieve liftoff immediately and they journey far into space. It is a psychedelic tour de force, something far beyond the ordinary, far outside the realm of normalcy yet incredibly evocative. There are drums and sequencers in the mix, but the thrust comes from the guitars, surely.

Can I just suggest you hear the music at this point? There is where words do not matter. Just listen to this one!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lili Boniche, Trésors de la Musique Judéo-Arabe

As a novice to Lili Boniche (1921-2008) and his art, I listened to the World Village reissue (with extra cuts) of his classic album Trésors de la Musique Judéo-Arabe (World Village 479094) without knowing exactly what I was hearing. But I got onto its wavelength quickly enough.

Lili was a popular vocalist who combined the Judeo-Arab-Andalusion roots of his Algerian homeland with modern Western elements. The result is a very attractive mix of Latin dance forms (rumba, tango), the introduction of Western instruments (piano, clarinet) and modern elements with traditional Algerian song for a music of the cabaret. It's the music you were somewhat likely to hear in Casablanca at the cabaret clubs in the mid-century, Rick's American Cafe notwithstanding.

There are songs with more of a traditional element and those more modernized, but throughout this is music that stimulates and entertains as it also fascinates in its early east-west fusion.

I recommend it strongly. Listen for some beautiful vocalizing, some nice oud in the orchestra, some hot east-west clarinet, other excellent instrumentalizing, and the arrangements!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tetuzi Akiyama & Anla Courtis, Naranja Songs

Today something a little different, namely some acoustic guitar duets between Tetuzi Akiyama and Anla Courtis in an album entitled Naranja Songs (Public Eyesore 127).

Forget about what your expectations might be for two acoustics. Akiyama and Courtis give us some very abstract, spatially open, almost Asian meditative new music that I presume involves total improvisation yet has structure born out of a unified vision.

There are four segments, each expressing in distinct ways the myriad sound possibilities available. The first piece, "Mind Mochileros," unwinds like a slow-speed abstract music box, a two-person counterpoint of open exploration that has harmonically expansive consistency. The music haunts quietly yet insistently.

"Springs and Strings" sets up sonic universes opened up by string bowing and "prepared" string pizzicato. Complex texture and timbres are achieved with a harmonic-overtone richness that belies the simple origins in the acoustic guitars involved.

"The Citrico Vibe" works with recurring note patterns that gradually lengthen as a careful attention as always to creating distinctive guitar soundings comes into play. This is restful yet very exploratory, with an acoustic drone ultimately contrasting against multi-note chordal repetitions and open strings recurring in interesting circularities.

"Los Frets Nomades" closes out the album with delicately sounded chordal motives that open out into a panorama of variations on variations while bowed sounds contrast and make complex the overall ambiance. The bowed sounds increase in density and timbral complexity in the end for a soundscaping that offers a fascinating poetic undercurrent of open yet tensile qualities.

I perhaps resort to some somewhat obscure descriptions to try and capture the world this music invokes. It is a sonically pleasing adventure that comes forward into your sound consciousness in ways that have no simple verbal equivalent.

It is experimental guitar music on a very high level. Akiyama and Courtis succeed in reconstructing the two-guitar improvisational setting where others have tried and perhaps not done as well. This is a gently pleasing yet very avant rethinking of guitar acoustics.

Ravishing. A breakthrough!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pete Seeger, Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger

Say what you like about the late Pete Seeger. He did more than anybody to make American folk music what it has been for us in our lifetimes. He was both a popularizer and an authenticist. He could get folk music into the hearts of Americans while at the same time acting in part as America's conscience, as a musical spokesperson for the poor and downtrodden, the victimized, the working man and his plight. And he made the folk song something more than what children sing in elementary school. He was at the forefront of a movement that transformed America, at least for a time but also permanently in the widest sense, made it aware of its musical and folklorish past.

All this is documented and presented in a two-CD set Sing Out America! The Best of Pete Seeger (Dynamic Nostalgia 4931). It amasses live recordings and some studio sessions covering the full spectrum of his career. We get Pete Seeger in his real folk mode--a singer with guitar or banjo. We get some sides with the Weavers, who had considerable success through pop versions of classics that now sound dated but nonetheless were historically important. Sides with the Almanac Singers have a bit more substance and authenticity. Then the best known and no doubt the best here involve Pete as solo artist, covering traditional folk tunes as well known as "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" and those more obscure essentials we came to know in part because of his presence, such as "Johnny has Gone for a Soldier." Then of course there were songs that came to our ears especially via Seeger and might not be known today if it were not for him--Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" for one. He helped paved the way for a country-wide appreciation of Afro-American "folk" music as well.

Hearing today his anti-war, pro-working man, civil-rights oriented anti-racist songs reminds us that he stood for things that in no way put him in the graces of some authorities, yet he prevailed and helped create a movement that followed out of the music. He created a social awareness and changed the musical turf. We perhaps now take it all for granted because it all got assimilated, hit a peak in the later '60s, then somehow got incorporated into the mainstream. Later, more conservative times followed, but the legacy remains and perhaps is more present in our contemporary culture than it has been for decades. I'll leave that to others or myself in a more expansive mode, but we may be on the verge of a folk renaissance.

This is a nice set that gives you a wide view of what he did musically over time. Through it all was Pete Seeger, spirited singer, good banjo and guitar player, and charismatic showman that made you want to sing along! RIP Pete Seeger.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mitch Haupers, Invisible Cities, Original Jazz & Chamber Music

Guitarist-composer Mitch Haupers gives us a nice program of his music on Invisible Cities (Liquid Harmony Music). A good portion of the album is devoted to small group introspective jazz, with Mitch on guitar joined by Bob Mintzer on winds, Alan Pasqua on piano, Darek Oles on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. The other half of the record concentrates on classical chamber works, with added guests that altogether make up a small orchestral chamber ensemble. Both portions of the album work together to give you a full picture of Haupers the artist.

This is Boston-based music. Mitch teaches at Berklee. The jazz sessions are quietly cool with nicely built compositional frameworks and good soloing from all. Haupers has a pristine tone on electric guitar and plays some subtle solos. Mintzer, Pascual and Oles get space to solo, too. The level is high.

For the chamber works Ayn Inserto has arranged the compositions and conducts. Some straddle the jazz-chamber division, being a bit of both. Others are more solidly placed in a classical camp. All are tonal and sophisticated.

Some of it definitely might have been categorized as "third stream" years ago. That term no longer seems as important, because there are so many degrees of intermingling in jazz and classical out there these days that there may be no set norm that could define third stream from its lack. No matter.

The main point here is that Mitch Haupers excels as a very tasteful guitarist and a talented composer in the tonal middle-ground today. The album delights.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Steve Khan, Subtext

Steve Khan is a guitarist who's been everywhere, done just about everything and remains a vital musician. His latest album puts him in the driver's seat of a very hip vehicle. He knows where to take it. We are talking about Subtext (Tone Center 4075 2).

The band has strong roots in Latin jazz and this album reflects it well. There is Ruben Rodriguez on bass, Dennis Chambers on drums, Marc Quinones on timbales, bongos, etc., and Bobby Allende on congas and bongos. Put that together with some choice guests like Randy Brecker who appear nicely here and there, put together soulful Latin arrangements and playing routines, and pick some hip tunes. Then add Steve Khan as the primary solo voice.

That's what is happening here. Steve Khan gives the program good originals. Our recipe is almost complete. Finally, add some gems by Monk, Hubbard, Coleman, Shorter, a standard or two, and let loose.

Khan's guitar styling is the focus and he gives us performances that are very worthwhile. Khan is a great chordalist and he plays bop-blues-rock lines in fine fashion here, as master plectrologist.

This one gives you lots of good music! Recommended!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Johnny Butler, Raise it Up

Saxman Johnny Butler returns with an EP Raise it Up. This is music that works because there is edgy conviction. It's real and comes from the soul. It combines avant jazz, an electricity, rap and hip-hop elements. There's a bit of soul-rap vocalizing. There's a remake of the Bee Gees "Jive Talking" which incredibly does not sound dated. And there is Johnny Butler playing some vigorous sax.

The players are Johnny Butler, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, clarinet, production; Kassa Overall, drums; Aidan Carroll, bass on most of the album; and JJ Byars, alto saxophone for one cut.

I dig this one for the high-tension-line thrust, the jolt of big-sound electricity. That's why it's on the guitar blog, because it has push that guitarists who like push will dig. The arrangements strike me as well worth your ear attention.

It's cool. You can get it at Bandcamp.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Bad Plus, The Rite of Spring

I've followed the piano-bass-drums trio The Bad Plus more or less from their beginning. They have pioneered what a trio such as theirs can do as an ensemble, aside from the obvious of improvising keenly and sensitively, which they also do. They have done some daring things in their existence, but I suppose the very most daring thing is what they have done recently. That is, to recreate Stravinsky's iconic "Rite of Spring" for a trio (Sony Music Masterworks). Bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Ethan Iverson, and drummer David King set out to do this and succeeded nicely. The challenge was to be true to the essence of the score yet transform it to the trio setting.

That they do. It is a triumph, no doubt a very difficult thing to work out between the three of them and then proceed to execute, which they do with the drive the music demands.

Honestly, as nicely done and as difficult as the piano part was and is, I found myself listening more to the bass and drum parts especially closely. The two-piano versions of the "Rites" as I believe transcribed by Stravinsky himself gives you the jolt of a piano-only rendition and it has been available in recorded form for some time. So this Bad Plus version does not (for me anyway) really pack the wallop-shock of the piano sound. However, there is nothing as obvious about what the bass and drum parts might be. The point of course is how the trio works together. The rhythm section rises to the occasion by coming up with some very excellent parts. Reid Anderson's bass part alone is a treat to follow.

So that's why I put this disk on the "Guitar and Bass Review" blog.

Should a "jazz" group be permitted to take such liberties? I don't imagine such a question makes any sense anymore. Of course! Is it jazz? Who cares what it is! It may not be jazz. It does not matter because the hearing is the confirmation that this is valid, and in fact exciting. They do full justice to the Stravinsky work, though it is a very different experience of course as a jazz trio piece. Improvisation is not the thing here. Stravinsky's music is. I can't see any reason not to go and grab a copy, if you are so inclined.

The Bad Plus do the very difficult and make it seem like the very natural thing to do! That is an achievement. They are musical heavyweights. Bravo.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Here's something from Finland today. Koutus (SIBA Records SRCD-1015). Harri Kuusijärvi Koutus, to be exact. It's a unique sort of trio featuring Harri and his very accomplished accordion, his unusual compositional sense, plus some excellent realization of guitar parts by Veikki Virkajärvi and precise yet heated drumming from Tatu Rönkkö.

Now I won't even try to tell you what this music sounds like, other than to say it doesn't. The accordion and Harri's composing have the slightest folkish feeling, northern folkishness. There is a melodic bent that makes it sound sometimes like it all would be good in one of those Bergson films or other classic Euro-arty auteur reels. But that is not to say it's background music in any way. It isn't.

It's moody, at times metallic, at other times self-reflexive. The accordion playing alone is worth the price of the ticket. But doing compositional metal too makes it a double-deal, a Dubble-Bubble without the need to break the gum rectangle in two. OK, I've localized and dated myself here. Nonetheless this music stays with you after a while. It's in its own way beautiful. And it lasts longer than a hunk of bubble gum. Much longer.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Dálava, Julia Ulehla, Aram Bajakian

Dálava (Sanasar)? It's a group effort, a most eclectic and unusual combination of Moravian folk songs and New York recombinatory logic. Julia Ulehla prevails on some convincing vocals. Her grandfather collected a good deal of folksongs in the rural Slovácko region of Moravia years ago. The self-titled album is a selection of these songs, arranged for an unusual ensemble of Julia with Tom Swafford and Skye Steele on violins, Shanir Blumenkranz on acoustic bass and Julia's husband Aram Bajakian on electric guitar.

You may think you can imagine what that might sound like, but you could be wrong. It's music that has some avant rock heaviness at times, a new music edge at times and of course the folksiness inherent in the songs. But even then, this isn't something foreordained so much as creatively open and engaging. Some beautiful guitar playing (both metallic and otherwise) and fiddling is to be heard, for example, that you might not expect. And the arrangements are so "downtown" that they will surprise you, even if you think you know "downtown" inside-out.

Julia has singing clout, Aram and the band have a daring approach and when the two combine you get some really rather daring music.

Bajakian has been making some very interesting albums lately (type his name in the search box above) but on this one he, the band, and Julia outdo anything expectable. Startling!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Axel Weiss, Cheryl Pyle, Silent Noise on Saturn

Maybe it's because we are in the thick of the present but it seems to me that there are ever more possibilities in the combination of styles and genres than there were years ago. Noticeably to me, rock has to some extent disengaged itself from the pop parade and taken its place alongside jazz and classical as music more outside the mainstream than previously. You look at the top 20 in pop at any given point now. How many are rock? Much less than 30 years ago. (You might say the same of soul, as compared to hip-hop, but that's another discussion.) So perhaps as a result, there is a continued intermingling of styles happening in all kinds of permutations. I find it interesting.

Turning to today's album we see an example of the confluence of styles. Axel Weiss and Cheryl Pyle join together for Silent Noise on Saturn (Intrinsic Records). Cheryl plays flutes here in her own special way; Axel comes at us with a battery of electric and acoustic guitars plus keys and such.

What's especially interesting to me is the spectrum of styles--from free to jamband to bossa and so forth. Each cut sets up its own world, with Cheryl's beautiful tone and cellular improv phrasings. Axel shows great versatility, driving the music from a rock jamband sound to classical, jazz and folkish modes.

It's mood music for your life. But it has tensile strength and gentleness with content that is substantive. It may not be the masterpiece of the century (how many times is that happening, anyway?) but it floats its way into your ears in a very welcoming way.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dylan Ryan Sand, Circa

The renaissance of power trio progressivity must be with us. There are some killer examples out there these days. One of them surely is drummer Dylan Ryan and his Sand (Dylan Ryan Sand) as can be heard on their latest, Circa (Cuneiform). This is fuse-prog with some lively compositional ideas from Dylan and excellent playing from all three members.

Tim Young lets loose on electric guitar, Devin Hoff is something to hear on bass, and of course Dylan is on drums, playing busily in the heat of things but always remaining focused.

The spectrum of moods is wide, from spacey and gentle to hammering jazz metal. It's a group confluence but you get lots of tasteful and hard-edged playing from everybody. Dylan sees the band's signature strengths as "harmonic openness or simplicity, the dramatic or dynamic shifts, the ensemble passages and especially group unison parts."

And I would add that it is how those factors play out with originality that makes this band an outstanding one. Tim's guitar has a through-looseness that is nearly belied by the significance of the lines and chordal patterns he unleashes. Hoff and Ryan are both engaged in original ways too.

Listen to their version of Keith Jarrett's old groover "Mortgage On My Soul" and you'll get what the band is doing straight-off. But then the originals take you further into the heart of what they are about.

It's an excellent go, an essential power trio album of the year for those who want involved, substantial music that still has an edge. Hear it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Marc Ducret, Tower-Bridge

Jazz guitarist-avant composer Marc Ducret has never been an artist to be taken for granted. His music and ensembles are filled with twists and turns, the unexpected and the worthy. His guitar work is very electric at times and always personal. Given all that, one never knows what is next. But I must admit the scope and intensity of his work with a 12-member band on Tower-Bridge (Ayler 139-140 2-CD) surprised me.

It is surely his most ambitious work to date. The entire double CD set was recorded live with a series of six Ducret compositions that deftly combine freedom and preset compositional form, structure and spontaneous heat.

The band is a well-chosen one. They play the music with in-the-moment ingenuity and drive. In the process they respond well to solo and collective improv opportunities. There are two drummers (Bruun and Rainey) and a percussionist (Lemetre), Antonin Rayon on piano, three trombones (Fourneyron, Mahler, Persigan), Tim Berne on alto sax, Fred Gastard on bass sax, Kasper Tranberg on trumpet, Dominique Pifarely on violin and of course Marc on electric guitar. Very good, excellent players, all. Combined they make for a stunning sonance.

The compositions have linear and cyclical aspects, make full use of the sonic spectrum of the instruments, have complex lines at times and generally make full use of forward time versus suspended time, of open freedom collectively and rock drive.

Beyond this, it comes across as ultra-convincing large ensemble avant jazz for today. There is a good amount of Marc Ducret's special guitar work, but this predominately comes across as a group effort, a triumph of large ensemble modernism.

It is not to be missed, if you are serious about keeping up with what's happening today. This is.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Moraine, Groundswell, with Dennis Rea

For the thinking person, we have fusion-prog rock by Moraine, the Seattle-based outfit headed by electric guitarist-composer Dennis Rea. I believe this is the third album for MoonJune (066) and it most certainly is a strong one with the band very much homogenized into a multistranded unit of adventure with a sound of its own.

Part of that surely has to do with the individual sound palettes of each band member. Alicia DeJoie plays an electrified violin with a beautiful tone and attack that one might say is post-Steve-Goodman in that it transforms a classically trained background into vibrant electric kinetics. In James DeJoie we have an important ingredient to the band's sound, especially with his rich baritone sax but also his agile flute. Kevin Millard plays foundational and virtuoso lines on the SN stick bass. Tom Zgonc drums with fused rock turbulence and drive. And Dennis Rea plays an electric guitar with a special lining ability that is about wonderful note choice and sound texture, using his chops in the service of the musical statements of the moment.

This set has compositions that work well to bring out the special group sound and to rock through with their own brand of fusion. Rea contributes four pieces, Alicia two, James two, plus there are several by names unfamiliar to me but the music all has that post-Sort Machine smarts that set things up for good soloing all around from Alicia, James and Dennis along with some nice ensemble flourishes.

This may well be the most impressive of their albums in terms of a cohesive original group sound. It is a beautiful listen and will be welcomed by all prog-fuse enthusiasts. Dennis remains one of the more important yet relatively unsung fusion guitarist figures out there. The whole band comes through with flying colors. This is band music with a highly original way about it all.

Very recommended.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tal Gur, Under Contractions, with Eyal Maoz

Tal Gur plays alto and soprano sax and composes. His pieces are effective. Tal joins forces with the always interesting guitarist Eyal Maoz, bassist Sam Trapchak and drummer Nick Anderson for the self-released gem of an album, Under Contractions.

Tal excels with outside, mostly quiet lyricism and he shows how that works on the album. Eyal Maoz contributes his sound-sensitive, gritty and sometimes amped-up guitar. As on his own albums, in trios and such, Eyal is a guitarist of quality and stature, inventiveness and leverage. One of the most interesting guitarists today in fact.

The rhythm sections holds its own, providing free-wheeling structures that make this a band in the best way. "Waiting for A Birth", a ballad, succeeds as strikingly well as some of the more up numbers.

Yet throughout there is more than the contemporaneous, there is a group sound that is strong and original.

The guitarist readers will surely dig what Eyal is doing, as will anybody attuned to modern open-form jazz. Tal has a sound of his own, too. And Trapchak gives us some excellent wood in his tone, a nice choice of notes and a perfect running mate for Nick Anderson and his smart drumming.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Group (Il Gruppo), The Feed-Back

When The Mothers of Invention under Frank Zappa came out with their first album, Freak Out, in 1966, it stunned me. The double album included a long cut called "The Return of the Son of the Monster Magnet", which featured a drummer laying down a basic rock beat, over which was a mix resulting from a studio filled with percussion instruments and a group of crazies who laid down a bizarre concatenation of avant-out sounds. Being a young lad at the time it scared me just a little bit. What was this? It was a "freak out", apparently. That's all I knew for sure.

Here we are some 48 years later. I received in the mail recently a CD with a cover I recognized as having a period look. The Feed-Back was (and is) the album title. On the spine of the CD the artists are identified as "The Group" (Schema Records). I listened and danged if it didn't remind me of the "Monster Magnet" Mothers. A drummer lays down various beats, on top of which are some very intricately, collectively improvised out sounds involving guitars, vocals, various instruments and electronic alterations.

I certainly liked what I heard. If anything, it was better than "Monster Magnet" but well within that mode. So I was determined to cover it. Today I looked up the music on the net and it turns out it is the Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, the seminal, pioneering avant improvisation ensemble out of Italy and this indeed, as the label indicates, was originally an RCA Italiana LP recording (from 1970). Like the MEV and the AMM they were critically important for the avant live acoustic-electronics improv scene. Members included Frederick Rzewski, Ennio Morricone. Franco Evangelista, Giancarlo Schiaffini, etc., basically improvising composers.

This album never to my knowledge made it into the bins of US record stores or if it did, I must have missed it. On the front cover nowhere does it identify the artists, so who would have known?

Anyway it's a full album of Il Gruppo in a psychedelic freak-out mode! The reissue gives us the music in an excellent digital remastering and all I can say is, if you have the slightest interest in the seminal avant garde outfits of those days, you do not want to miss it. It's wacky but it is serious about it. The band created here an over-the-top psychedelic ambience that is a genuine pleasure and a hoot.

I'll be...!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Kalle Kalima and K-18, Bunuel de Jour

Avant cafe folk thrash? I don't know if that quite covers what I hear on guitarist Kalle Kalima & K-18's album Bunuel de Jour (TUM CDE 038), but it's a start. Kalle has done tributes with this band to other seminal film auteurs--Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch (type Kalle's name in the search box for a review of the latter)--and now he and the band turn to the surrealist icon.

The band thrives from a mixture of Kalle's ever-probing skronkish and pre-skronkish guitar, the quartet-tone avant folkisms of accordionist Veli Kujawa, acid-etched alto saxist Mikko Innanen, the ever-present woody sense of bassist Teppo Hauta-Aho, and Kalle's original compositional stance.

The oil and water contrasts of these musicians make the music vibrate and oscillate like a gestalt rabbit-or-vase foreground-background optically moving drawing. The music is this and that in rapid turns, simultaneously, or within a longer time field.

The ensemble sound and the distinctive personalities of the band members make for both a vivid whole and a caustic series of parts. You can profit just by listening to Kalle's guitar work, but it's meant to be a part of the unusual whole. The avant jazz, rock and cosmopolitan urban folk qualities intermingle in ways that intrigue and keep your attention from flagging.

Hear this one and you'll be challenged and pleasured all at once. Worth your ear-time for sure.