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!