Thursday, December 31, 2009

Moonbound: British Prog Rock with Melodic Approach

Originally posted on June 30, 2008

Something new? There’s a prog-rock-pop band named Moonbound that has some catchy tunes. It’s the hook oriented, guitar pop, romantic lyrics sort of music that has a vaguely retro flavor.

These tracks were the brainchild of Euro-producer musician Fabio Trentini and there is a well wrought quality to the whole. It has that British sort of sound. Vocals are out front and the level of song quality is high. The album is called Confession and Release (Unsung). In upcoming posts, I’ll be delving into more new rock and some classics and whatever rattles through my music system. Until then. [Happy New Year and thanks for reading my blogs.]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

XTC: "Home Grown" Reconsidered

Originally posted on June 27, 2008

Spin ahead to 2001 and another XTC release, Home Grown (Idea). By now it’s just Partridge and Moulding. This is a collection of demo recordings, one offs, and trial versions of songs. It’s mostly guitars with a little keyboard and drums.

What strikes me hearing this is that you would recognize the strength of their writing even at the most elementary production levels, and you do. It’s not exactly a must have. There are some nice things.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

XTC: "Nonsuch" Reconsidered

Originally posted on June 26, 2008

It is funny how one can look back at personal listening patterns. I find that certain groups and styles enter my life in fits and starts. It’s not always that I reject something or have given up on it. (Although that happens, too.) I often just get distracted. XTC, for example, I came upon a little late, loved them, then got involved in other things and missed what they did after 1990. I am now just getting around to their 1992 Nonsuch (Geffen).

It is perhaps not as haunting as some of the earlier ones; there is a more minimal, bare-bones approach to instruments. The songs are still as quirky as ever, with an art rock vision that juxtaposes pop and more heady styles as a sort of extension of what Brian Wilson has been after at times. Partridge is king of the insightful or deliberately bland lyric and comes up with the musical equivalent of such a contrast in his arrangements. They haven’t always had huge success. I guess some people have trouble figuring out where to “put” them. Nonsuch has an assortment of strong pieces. “The Smartest Monkeys” is a killer. I do miss the more symphonic rock-orchestral richness of the middle period albums like Skylarking, but nonetheless it is great to have more to hear by these folks. Time eventually to catch up on the ones after this.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Matador Records Retrospective Box Set

Originally posted on June 25, 2008

Matador Records has been a presence in this decade for alternative rock, post-post-neo-post, or whatever you want to call the kind of rock that can be raw, chancy, slickly subversive, retro in a post sort of way, metal with a brain, and other things too. Their anthology Matador at Fifteen contains an overview of their releases between 1999-2004.

Of course, it is selective (how could it not be?). There's a CD of greatest hits by folks like Mission of Burma, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, and Mogwai. There’s a CD of unreleased material, remixes and rarities. And there’s a DVD of videos. Now I know I am archaic, but rock videos don’t generally do much for me, and so I watched with less enthusiasm than some people might. The music, however, pulled me in and held me there. This is rock that can get attention and still be on the creative edge. What’s the use of one without the other?

New York Eye and Ear Control, Underground Classic

Originally posted on June 24, 2008

Another mid-‘60s gem resurrected by ESP was recorded as the soundtrack for Michael Snow’s film New York Eye and Ear Control. Released under that same title, the recording gives you a full blown free jam by some of the legendary practitioners of the era—Don Cherry, Albert Ayler, Roswell Rudd, etc. No, no guitars. There weren’t very many guitarists in the free stable then. That would come later. Sonny Sharrock was one of the first, but he’s not on this. What is here is a volcanic mixture of state-of-the-art free madness. Listen with an open mind and you’ll be transported. Listen without that and the destination will be an aural hell!

Paul Bley's "Closer:" Model Free Jazz Piano Trio, 1965

Originally posted on June 23, 2008

In 1965 ESP released pianist Paul Bley’s Closer. It was a rather short but very succinct album that featured Steve Swallow on bass and Barry Altschul on drums. Bley was in the earlier part of his career but had already been influential as a musician that combined the freedom of post-Ornette ensembles with an introspective musical stance.

The album has recently been re-released and it still sounds modern. There are little gems of improvisation throughout. Songs by Carla Bley, Annette Peacock, Ornette and Bley himself give the listener a whirlwind tour through the pianist’s trio conception and the interaction between group members would create a model for what could be done in the free piano trio context for years to come.

Steve Lacy's Classic "Forest & Zoo" Reissued

Originally posted on June 20, 2008

With the resurrection of ESP Records has come the welcome reissue of some early free jazz classics. I will touch upon a few in the next week or so. First of all, ESP for those who don’t know was one of the first underground labels to come out of the ‘60s and the burgeoning New York world of beats, bohemians, the avant-garde jazz community and such.

One of the more important releases was actually recorded in Italy. Steve Lacy made a stir in the ‘50s jazz world as the only important new soprano sax player since Sidney Bechet exploded out of New Orleans in the ‘20s (actually Bechet was even earlier, but not with big recognition until then). John Coltrane took up the soprano with great results by around 1960, but before that, absolutely no one was playing it but Steve.

After some critically acclaimed dates with Cecil Taylor and Roswell Rudd in the fifties and beyond, Lacy became an expatriate in the mid-sixties and recorded The Forest and the Zoo at the beginning of that period. It was his first truly “free” recording and sported a wonderful quartet that included Enrico Rava on trumpet. The album consists of two long interrelated sides of loose but probing improvisations. The whole group gets a sound that uniquely communicates and Lacy is a puckish presence throughout. Having heard this recording for so many years it is hard for me to reconstruct a first-time experience for someone today. I can say that one can listen to the record many times and get more out of it as one goes. That is, if one has an open mind. Any musician or music lover who wants to understand where modern music has come from would benefit from repeated listenings. That’s all for now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Janis Joplin Versus Tracy Nelson

Originally posted on June 19, 2008

Janis Joplin or Tracy Nelson? In my vinyl treasure hunt of the last several years, I’ve reacquired some records by those two principal divas of the late ‘60s rock world. Of course everyone knows Janis Joplin. She had big hits, was hailed as the new Bessie Smith, etc. Her first album with Big Brother and the Holding Company (Mainstream) (1967?) is rather uneven. They were a less than proficient psychedelic band grafted onto Joplin’s enormous voice and in those days she wasn’t featured on all the numbers. Much of the music sounds dated in a charming way. The band was pretty awful. “Women is Losers” is my favorite cut on the LP because Joplin doesn’t try too hard, a problem I think she increasingly fell into.

Tracy Nelson, on the other hand had (and has) a natural gift that she used with deceptively facile ease. She had a big voice like Joplin, but it flowed with musical nuances Joplin didn’t possess. Nelson started out with the rock band Mother Earth and they mixed a rock approach to r & b with country overtones. Their third album Bring Me Home (Reprise) brings her to the forefront consistently and still sounds great.

Her first two solo albums, self titled (Atlantic) (1972) and Sweet Soul Music (MCA) (1973) have been back on my turntable since I dug them up in a vinyl-only shop I usually frequent when and if I have money. (I don’t now). The first Atlantic album has a killer version of her “Down So Low” that gives you an idea of her enormous talent. “Sweet Soul Music” has a gem of a cut in “Going Back to Tennessee.” I believe she is still active but I don’t know how (can’t always keep up). Listen to her at her best and I believe you’ll see she was the queen of the rock divas back then.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bjork's "Medullah," John Butler's "What You Want"

Originally posted on June 16 & 18, 2008

Bjork has made some daring inroads into the rock scene over the past decade. It’s taken a while, but I am just now giving a serious listen to her 2004 Medulla release (Elektra). It is even more vocal-centered than some of her earlier work. Many of the cuts are her overtracked or with other vocalists and that’s it. Plenty don’t have much in the way of “beat.”

But hey, she’s created a unique musical universe that has an edge and what’s wrong with that? I detect some world influences, such as Eskimo Game Songs, throughout, and that’s a good thing. Cross-pollination of styles can change the face of what’s out there, sooner or later, and sometimes it seems we need to extend what we all share one way or another when vibrating the musical air, whether electronically or directly. In short, one can get sick of the same old stuff.

And what about John Butler? Here is somebody who can appeal while keeping musical levels high. He plays a very decent guitar, mostly acoustic, likes to jam a bit, writes nice songs, and sings well. His Jarrah EP What You Want shows all that in mini-abundance.

Totem: Power Trio Playing Experimental Music

Originally posted on June 13, 2008

Noise. Free Jazz. Out electric guitar. Electric guitarist Bruce Eisenbeil, bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Andrew Drury give you the update on these musical categories in their newly released recording as Totem, Solar Forge (ESP). This is probably not music of which your grandmother would approve.

It’s a whole CD-load’s worth of experimental collages and explorations in the sounds one can make with this instrumental configuration. For that it is an excellent recording. They’ve clearly worked hard to get a consistent approach to new sounds. If you think it is easy, try it yourself! Not, of course, everybody’s cup of tea.

Holy Modal Rounders Reissued

Originally posted on June 11, 2008

And then there were the fringe lunatic groups in 1967. The Fugs were perhaps the most notorious, starting with several albums on ESP that shocked kids like me back then. The music was crude and the lyrics? I sure was not ready for their brand of Village satire. Nor was my friends' father, who broke my copy of the second album in half (no easy task) when he heard what his son was listening to. Steve Weber and Pete Stamfel were charter members of the group, providing much of the instrumental grounding for the first few albums.

They spun off as The Holy Modal Rounders, releasing Indian War Whoop in ’67 on ESP. It has just been reissued and it sounds as off the wall as it did then. There are traditional string band songs, old risqué blues numbers and some downright bizarre moments. I don’t think anyone would call it a classic. Still, it may amuse you, if you appreciate what was on the edge during that era. Otherwise, best to stay away!

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Origins of Progressive Rock, Two Albums by the Collectors

Originally posted on June 10, 2008

The progressive rock scene in 1967 and 1968 was a time when bands either established legendary status in the history of the music or more or less went unheralded and disappeared in short order, even if they contributed to the overall gestalt of the sound of those days. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, for example, was one of the latter, though they deserved attention. Ultimate Spinach, The Beacon Street Union, The Blue Things, The Id, and Loading Zone were a few others.

Then there was a Canadian band, the Collectors, who produced two albums for Warner Brothers: the self-titled album (1967) and Grass and Wild Strawberries (1968). CD reissues of these two LPs came out a couple of years ago. I am not sure if they are still in print. The group had the progressive guitar, keys, winds, bass, drums lineup and they took some chances. The first album had a long suite called “What Love,” which was ambitious though a little pretentious. The second album had a back to the earth sort of theme. Both were well crafted musically and certainly bear repeated listening—if you like the music of that era.

Music by Dan Kaufman, Poetry by Paul Celan

Originally posted on June 9, 2008

Combinations of poetry and music can be great or just awful. Much has to do with, of course, the appropriateness and listenable qualities of the music vis-à-vis the poetry. Dan Kaufman has compiled a set of post-fusion music that is inspired by, and includes recitations of, the poetry of Paul Celan. (Force of Light) (Tzadik Records).

The CD works on the ideal level: the poetry illuminates the music and vice versa. This is a sober look at the 20th century from a poetic yet tragic Jewish point of view. It is seen as lacking in almost every respect. May we do better in this age beyond. Prepare to be moved.

Jaipong Music from Sunda, West Java

Originally posted on June 4, 2008

The island of Sunda in West Java, Indonesia, was and probably still is the site of a form of music and dance called jaipong. Between 1979 and 1986, female vocalist Idjah Hadidjah and a small group of gamelan instrumentalists went into the studio to record an updated version of this musical genre.

Those recordings have been re-released on Nonesuch Explorer as Sundanese Jaipong and Other Popular Music. The cuts were hits in Indonesia at the time, but to Western ears they don’t sound at all like pop. The musical language follows the basic path of the modes and rhythms of Javanese gamelan, but the forms are shorter and vocalist Hadidjah is at the forefront, as are often the drummers. It’s a graceful sound simultaneously charged with Eros, which fits with the tradition. I found the whole CD very easy on my years, but nonetheless filled with musical substance. And the vocals are stunning.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Some Wonderful Steel Guitar Blues from Black Pentecostal Gospel Groups

Originally posted on May 29, 2008

Some time in the ‘90s, Arhoolie Records began releasing a number of albums devoted to the gospel music of a series of Black Pentecostal churches in Florida. The best of these recordings have been released in an anthology called None but the Righteous: The Masters of Sacred Steel (Ropeadope).

It combines prodigious steel guitar in the most bluesy, electric sense with soulful gospel and it’s incredible music. Who says the blues are on the way out? Not in these churches. This music rules!

David Buchbinder and his Jewish-Cuban Music

Originally posted on May 28, 2008

If successfully crafted, unusual combinations of musics interest you, there is a CD on Tzadik Records that will get your attention. Jewish and Cuban fusion? Yes, on the CD Odessa/Havana by David Buchbinder.

Klezmer and Cuban dance music have much in common anyway, in the sense that they have met at various geographic and cultural crossroads, certainly in US urban centers like New York in the first half (at least) of the 20th century. Each also incorporated jazz elements into the music over the years, as jazz also incorporated aspects of both musics as well. That, of course, is no guarantee that an amalgam produced today would work. Buchbinder’s teaming up with pianist-composer Hilano Duran and a carefully chosen group makes all that possible. This is different!

Yuganaut and "This Musicship"

Originally posted on May 27, 2008

A recently released CD by Yuganaut, This Musicship (ESP), gives a contemporary look at the free jazz scene. It’s a trio of Stephen Rush, mostly Moog, Tom Abbs, bass, tuba, etc., and Geoff Mann, drums, etc.

The recording scores with the variety of sound textures produced and the shifting instrumentation. Abstract musical events, rock with free solos, jazz forays, you name it. Almost anything can seemingly happen with these players and the sense of exploration gives the listener an exciting lift.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

British Sea Power Gives You an Interesting Spin on Your Player

Originally posted on May 24, 2008

In case you missed it, the first album by the English group British Sea Power, The Decline of. . .(Rough Trade), is a worthy listen. It came out in 2003 and there is another one (that I haven’t heard), but it has a kind of pull-out-the-stops eclectic punk-and-everything-else alternative sound that is really rather interesting. The hooks are pretty strong and instrumentally there is much going down on any cut. I don’t know what the lyrics are totally about, but it all seems to work.

Otis Redding in A Deluxe Reissue Edition

Originally posted on May 22, 2008

Speaking of soul from the ‘60s, of course nobody could touch Otis Redding for his warmth and conviction. Atco/Rhino Collector’s Edition has released a deluxe two-CD set based around Otis Redding Sings Soul, one of his strongest albums of the era.

There are full mono and stereo versions of the album, which are different, extra b-sides and such, and good chunks of two live albums—at the Whiskey and in Europe. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Respect,” “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Satisfaction” sound wonderful no matter what version, and the other cuts kick it too!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Frisell, Ribot, Sparks: Zorn's Masada Guitars

Originally posted on May 20, 2008

Guitarists Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot and Tim Sparks turn in some stunning acoustic and electric solo performances of the work of John Zorn on Masada Guitars (Tzadik). It is just their guitar and your ears for 21 pieces.

Zorn’s work has had a recognizably Jewish tonality for the most part in the last 10 years or so. He deftly incorporates those roots into an unpredictable matrix of creative musicality. Guitarists and their friends should find this CD captivating. Like what most of what Zorn has been doing, it has a distinctive quality not to be found elsewhere.

Contemporary Soul from Gnarls Barkley

Originally posted on May 19, 2008

If you like the classic soul recordings of the ‘60s and still have a modern bent you will no doubt find Gnarls Barkley’s new album The Odd Couple (Downtown/Atlantic) a genuine pleasure. It’s a beyond-the-roots duo with great vocals and the album is crammed with strong tunes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Trank Zappa Grappa in Varese? I Think He Did.

Originally posted on May 16, 2008

Guitarist Michel Delville and drummer Laurent Delchambre are mainstays of the Belgian fusion group The Wrong Object (see below). They have also teamed with bassist Damien Campion and reedman Markus Strauss for a journey into related realms with the side-group Trank Zappa Grappa in Varese?

Their latest, More Light (Fazzul Music), is a free-wheeling set that incorporates progressive elements in a heady mix of metal and melody. It’s one of those that will keep you guessing what’s next. Serious and fun at the same time!

Titus Groan, An Obscure Early Prog Rock Outfit

Originally posted on May 15, 2008

And then there’s another group from the late sixties—an English band—that will probably never make anyone’s top 30 list—Titus Groan. They had one album, released in the states on Janus records. It is a proto-progressive outfit with guitar, bass, keys, drums, and a fellow that plays flute and oboe. They had a particular sound and when the tune was right, they sounded like nobody.

I think the album is available on CD; I still have it on vinyl. When they were good, they were very good. Some cuts are duds though. If they ever had a second album (I don’t think so), it would have been interesting to see if they matured. How many groups only got that one shot then, and now? Here’s to that chance. May musicians make the best of it!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Love's Classic "Forever Changes" in a Definitive Edition

Originally posted on May 14, 2008

If someone were to compile a list of the top—say—30 art-rock albums recorded 1965-70, and I am sure someone has, Love’s third album Forever Changes should be on it. The group in its first incarnation had a quirky folk-rock-cum-everything-else feel to it. Mainly due to writer-singer Arthur Lee and, to a lesser extent, Brian MacLean, the band managed to be musical and relevant in very interesting ways. The Forever Changes album was the last with the original lineup and in an important sense was a culmination of much of what they had been working on up to that point. It did not sell well when first released, but became an underground favorite for its widely ranging, unexpected juxtapositions of style elements and penetratingly direct, thoughtful lyrics.

Elektra/Rhino has just come out with a 2-CD Collector’s Edition that gives you the entire LP in its final mix, plus another mix that is subtly different. Some alternate takes and non-album tunes complete the set, and they add to the vibe of the period. There’s a tongue-in-cheek version of “Wooly Bully,” for example, that underscores how far they had driven away from mainstream radio pop. And the whole thing manages to sound fresh today. How many others from that period do?

"Platform One" by the Wrong Object

Originally posted on May 13, 2008

The healthy resurgence of jazz-rock, fusion and progressive rock has been one of the blog themes lately, just because I’ve gotten a number of items for review that seem to testify to this. The Wrong Object is a Belgium-based group in the jazz-rock bag. (See below for a review of another one of their recent CDs.)

They have a new album that’s come across my desk (see below for a review of another one of their recent CDs) and it’s a very good example of what is churning underneath the commercial surface of the music world. Platform One (JazzPrint) adds guest musicians Harry Beckett and Annie Whitehead for an impressive program that includes two Zappa covers. Michel Delville continues to be an important presence on guitar. There are plenty of horns here too and the arrangements keep the ears functioning with lots to ingest and enjoy.

Tally Hall: Whimsical, Campy, Cute, Youthfully Romantic

Originally posted on April 30, 2008

“And now for all you youngsters out there. . . ,” as Ed Sullivan used to announce, we have something different in the pop-rock vein. The group is Tally Hall and the CD is entitled Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum (Atlantic). It has a whiff of early Queen without the overblown vocalizations, and it also hearkens back at times to the whimsical Beatles of Sgt. Pepper’s era and other tongue-in-cheek camp doings such as a few cuts from Moby Grape’s Wow.

There’s a wide-open approach to the album concept and you will find pseudo-old time ukulele tunes, straight ahead rockers, and everything in between. It has that youthful romanticism that doesn’t always find its way to disk these days. I found it interesting. There’s a cuteness (think of the Monkees, with all due respect) that doesn’t completely resonate with my grumpy age bracket. Nevertheless, it has a solid musical bent refreshing to hear.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Baird Hersey's Year of the Ear, Berlin, 1980

Throughout the latter half of the 1970's guitarist-jazz composer Baird Hersey led a big band known as Year of the Ear. It was a group with a sense of adventure and style. The players comprised some of the Boston area's finest and Baird's charts were original excursions into the land of fusion and the avant garde. His was probably the most distinctive big band of the era working within a fusion framework. There were three albums released, two on the Arista family of labels. The Ear played often in and around Boston and later, New York. Baird was a very talented jazz composer and a fusion avant garde guitarist of note and the records give a good cross-section of the range of his music. now has a page devoted to the band at You can get a fuller sense of the history of the band by checking that page. Most importantly though Baird has posted there a previously unreleased video of a one-hour set the band played at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1980. This was towards the end of the band's existence and it fills out the evolution of the group where the records leave off.

To get a fuller picture of the Ear's contribution to fusion and big band music one should also track down the records and give them a listen. There are several cuts posted on the My Space page and that should help. The video posting however provides a very solid slab of the band in action live, and it is highly recommended listening.

By then the personnel had gelled into a tight-knit music machine that functioned on all cylinders and negotiated the many twists and turns of Baird's charts with real style. The set includes a few numbers the band had previously recorded and some new pieces as well. Baird's long flowing, original line writing contrasts with a churning fusion-funk that owed something to Miles Davis and his electric bands. "The Prince," a kind of Miles tribute, shows this especially. There is also much else of interest on this video.

Check out the beautifully articulated horn parts and the complimentary space for free playing and intensely expressive soloists. The trumpet section is quite exciting, with Stanton Davis, Mark Harvey, and the late Danny Mott contrasting well. But trombonist Tim Sessions and saxmen Len Detlor, George Garzone and John Hagen also have shining moments in the course of the set. Then of course there's Baird's guitar, which really sounds out when the arrangement calls for it.

In the end it's Mr. Hersey's exceptional compositional and arranging touches that put this band beyond a mere fusion-free blow out. He learned well from his apprenticeship with Bill Dixon and reflected something of what George Russell's large group writing emphasized: multi-layered contrasts. But this music is all Baird. Listen/watch the video and you'll get the idea. Baird nowadays concentrates on his overtone vocalizations, something quite beautiful in another way, and leads the very interesting choral ensemble Prana (see my postings on that at

This was a band that deserved far more recognition than it received. The records simply must be reissued. It's a crime that they are not readily available. Baird tells me there are other recordings he has stashed away, unheard by the general public. I believe that as we now and in the future reassess the fusion of the '70s era Baird's work will emerge as some of the best and most creative. And no big band could touch the Year of the Ear on a number of levels.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Look at Billie Holliday in a New Box Set

Originally posted on April 29, 2008

Billie Holliday was surely one of the greatest artists jazz has known. In a career spanning the ‘30s to the late ‘50s, she gave the world some exceptional music. I suspect most if not all the readers of this blog know that. ESP records has compiled a 5-CD set of her live recordings, radio and TV appearances and soundtrack spotlights and there’s a whole heck of a bunch of music. I am not always a fan of her very late work. She can be really on top of things, but she can also sound unhealthy and slightly uninspired. This set doesn’t do anything to change my mind there. Some of the cuts do not do her justice—and some transcend that time period to be terrific.

The first three disks or so, however, really show off her abilities. Beginning with the soundtrack to a Duke Ellington short in the thirties, she handles the lyric and musical content of every song with absolute command and stylistic genius. There are a number of versions of some of her most popular songs as the set covers a chronological survey. That can be fascinating from a comparative point of view. It also means that after repeated hearings one may want to pick and choose cuts rather than blast through all five CDs at a shot. I am glad ESP came out with this set. It compliments her studio sessions and gives you a really well rounded look at her career.

The Unknown Masada from John Zorn

Originally posted on April 28, 2008

There is something intriguing about John Zorn. His music combines all kinds of styles at any given time: Jewish, free improv, death metal, downtown, jazz, thrash, world, you name it. As his CDs on Tzadik attest, Zorn collates and reworks all kinds of amalgams in his own special way.

The Masada group concept has been his staple over the last decade and he always peoples it with strong players. To celebrate Masada’s tenth anniversary, Zorn has created a series of special CDs. One of them, The Unknown Masada, looks at some previously unrecorded Zorn pieces and has an ever shifting lineup of styles and densities. It is quite an experience to hear.

Hard Swinging Piano from Sacha Perry

Originally posted on April 21, 2008

Sacha Perry plays a hard swinging piano in the jazz lineage of what follows from Monk and Bud Powell. He’s joined by a powerful trio of Ari Roland on bass and Phil Stewart, drums, for a lively set released as The Third Time Around (Smalls).

Swing is most definitely the thing and they are indefatigable. Perry does not have the cache of some well-known pianists today, but he most certainly deserves greater recognition. Good music.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Black Bonzo's "Sound of the Apocalypse"

Originally posted on April 18, 2008

Black Bonzo is the name of yet another progressive rock group alive and kicking today. The guitar-organ-bass-drums-vocal stylizations classify them as another post-Yes type group, but not in a copycat sense.

The vocals are generally strong, instrumental aspects tight-knit, and the songs are memorable. Sample Sound of the Apocalypse (Laser’s Edge) by the band and you’ll be intrigued, I think. Must be brief today.

The Complete Musician/Listener Needs to Hear Cecil Taylor

Originally posted on April 17, 2008

If you know who Cecil Taylor is, then you are on the game. If you don’t, suffice to say that he is a pianist of distinctive qualities and a pioneer in outside jazz making. Jimmy Carter, after a White House appearance by Taylor, expressed that he’d wished he played piano like him. There’s a CD on Cadence that I think is one of the best of the later issues (All the Notes, recorded in 2000). It’s a live date with Dominic Duval on bass and Jackson Krall on drums. Taylor never sounded more elated and perhaps it was the supporting musicians that inspired him. I don’t know about that, but in any event this is some CD, if you have the ears to hear it.

The complete musician, I firmly believe, should always keep the ears open to whatever is going on out there. I personally cannot extend that to, for example, some of these folks on the Idol show, but I still believe in openness as a way to proceed. Charlie Parker liked country music, for example. That is pretty amazing. Why not though?

The Electric Bass and Stick of Sean Malone

Originally posted on April 16, 2008

Electric bass and stick player Sean Malone is quite a master at what he does. The stick, by the way, is a multi-stringed electric instrument that apparently one taps rather than plucks. Sean has a CD out that shows off his abilities quite well. Cortlandt (Free Electric Sound) puts Malone in the company of various guitarists (such as Trey Gunn) and drummers for a fusion-based program. Sean has the facility, if not quite the sound, of Jaco Pastorious. He’s good!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jet Propelled Power Pop

Originally posted on April 15, 2008

If power pop is something you go for, and you like a little bit of retro mixed with the contemporary, listen to Jet. The album I am spinning right now is several years old—Get Born (Elektra). It has a guitar centered vibe and there are traces of the influences of the Stones and the Who, among others.

RumorHang, Milan's Avant Jamband in a Free Download

Originally posted on April 14, 2008

Guitar, bass, keys/electronics, drums, vocals . . . the Milan group RumurHang have a somewhat conventional lineup. But it’s a kind of avant-jamband sound they produce. Think of the Dead’s space interludes, only this band doesn’t play in any way that suggests they are Dead-influenced.

Under a Creative Commons license, you can download their 2007 eDogm label CD Gerardmer for free. Go to and look for release number 17.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Italian Prog Rock from DFA

Originally posted on April 11, 2008

Progressive rock is surely not dead. Another good example of a band active now is the Italy-based DFA. They’ve been around for some time, but recognition in the USA has only gradually come about. Musically they hearken back to Yes, early Genesis and perhaps King Crimson for complexity and instrumental virtuosity. They have their own spin on things however, and they sound thoroughly of today.

MoonJune Records have a number of releases out of the band (See my Cadence review of last January for more.) The one on my CD player now is a live US concert recorded in 2000. The CD is named Work in Progress and that title fits them, since it seems they are constantly perfecting and reworking their repertoire to more complex and refined levels, from what I can tell. The CD in question has a punchy, cosmically expanded ambiance. It’s fun to hear and gives you plenty of musical content to contemplate.

Eric McPherson Makes Solid Post-Coltrane Music

Originally posted on April 10, 2008

The jazz of today falls into many stylistic categories. The post-Coltrane school is one of them, as it has been since the master’s death in 1967. A good new CD in this vein features drummer Eric McPherson’s band on Continuum (Smalls).

McPherson has a dynamic and creative style and saxman Abraham Burton shows an expressive affinity with the Trane legacy but has a personal well-burnished approach that livens the proceedings considerably. The whole band is top notch. It’s a very good listen indeed and I hope Mr. McPherson comes out with another soon!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Simone Guiducci on Acoustic Guitar

Originally posted on April 9, 2008

Acoustic guitarist Simone Guiducci has a number of CDs to his credit. The one I’ve been listening to is from 2001—Django’s Jungle (Splasc[h]). This is his tribute to the great gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and it shows off Simone’s subtle skills well.

The band at full strength is a 7tet on this disk, and they hold their own. Not every tune is a gem and sometimes the music borders on European café music (but then again you could say the same for Django’s repertoire at certain points). However this is a very pleasant listen and Simone is no slouch on his instrument.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Allan Holdsworth Live in Japan, 2002

Originally posted on April 8, 2008

Guitarist Allan Holdsworth has provided one of the most distinctive electric styles in the past 30 or so years, and continues to excel. He has a wonderful tone, a thoughtful use of sustain, big-time chops and a melodic approach that remains instantly recognizable and incredibly musical.

Favored Nations Records released a while ago a CD of Allan Holdsworth along with Jimmy Johnson on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums for a very nice live set in Japan recorded in 2002. It’s called All Night Wrong but there’s nothing wrong about that night musically. They dig into some earlier repertoire and forge ahead with conviction. It is great stuff.

Jeff Albert and the NOLA Open Ears Music Series

Originally posted on April 8, 2008

Trombonist Jeff Albert has become an important force in post-catastrophe New Orleans, hosting a free-wheeling New Jazz series on Tuesday nights called Open Ears. If you are in NOLA you should check it out. If you can’t get there, he makes available free MP3 downloads of many of the evenings' proceedings on the Open Ears site.

Go to and follow the Open Ears link. The April 2 (2008) session is of special interest to guitarists, you who like those moments when Hendrix let loose a torrent of feedback. Cheers for Jeff to make this music available for free, and to organize these concerts in the first place. If you like what you hear, you might give a listen to the Lucky 7s CD that he is on. [12/3/09 Note: there are two now out, both very worthwhile.] It is a favorite of mine. And there’s also a killer Looneytunes Three Little Pigs cartoon on his Scratch My Brain blog that you will be sure to enjoy, I would think. Well, enough for today.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

King Crimson Live, 1973-74

Originally posted on April 7, 2008

It might have been easy to take the music scene for granted in 1973-74. I think I did. All kinds of groups were touring regularly, the musicianship was solid out there for the most part, groups with edge, power, drive and a sense of risk were more or less popular, and audiences had come to accept the idea that jamming was not unusual for some electric bands.

Bring on King Crimson, who had regrouped more than once but centered around the leader and guitarist extraordinaire Robert Fripp. We are fortunate that the band was captured live in a series of good quality recordings from those days that are available on a CD series called The Great Deceiver. I’m listening to volume two, a two-CD set on DGM Live. There’s Fripp of course, legendary drummer Bill Bruford, John Wetton on bass and vocals, and David Cross on violin and keys.

What’s amazing to me is how freely and heavily they jammed and how the repertoire continually metamorphosed in the live setting. Any fan of Fripp’s should give this one a listen, and anyone who wants to understand the history of jam bands too.

German Prog Rock from Dzyan, 1974

Originally posted on April 4, 2008

In 1974 German progressive rock-fusion trio Dzyan recorded their third album, Electric Silence (Bellaphon). The lineup was Eddy Maron on guitar, Reinhard Karwatky on bass and Peter Giger on drums. And the group also played sitar and mellotron (not sure who on what). The album is a real sleeper, in that perhaps many have passed it by. The program is a heady mix of spacey Mahavishnu-type jams and forays into psychedelia and ambient music.

My friend gave me a blindfold test on this one and I was miffed! It sounded seventies-ish but it also could have been made today. There is an ethnic-Indian component to the rock assault that sounds as interesting today as it must have then. Like a good pair of sneakers you’ve worn until they are soft and reassuring, this music feels comfortable to me. There are three other disks released in the '70s by the group that I would imagine are worth checking out as well, but I do not know!

Trey Gunn and Quodia

Originally posted on April 3, 2008

On an entirely different note, there is the CD/DVD set by Quodia that features The Arrow: A Story in Seven Parts (7D Media). Quodia is headed by Trey Gunn, notable tap guitarist formerly with King Crimson, and Joe Mendelson of Rise Robots Rise. It all centers around a fairy tale sort of story that is just quirky enough to get your attention.

The DVD features the music (in 5.1 Surround), the narrative and some mind-bending special effects that I found fascinating. The CD just has the music and narrative. Quodia brings to the listener a sort of evolved progressive rock that has an electronic component. There are some nice guitar moments and the whole is cohesive and convincing. If it is something different you are after in this mode, you might just as well give this one a go.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Howard Glazer Plays the Blues

Originally posted on April 2, 2008

The blues today manages to hang on without dominating urban neighborhoods and college campuses like it did in its heyday. There are still clubs that feature it and a loyal following which, while not extraordinarily huge, remains solid. You could say the same about all the other musics that are not in the lowest common denominator mainstream, while we’re at it. Perhaps satellite radio will combine with college stations and the rapidly expanding world of downloads to gradually increase listenership for the various genres.

Caucasian bluesman-guitarist Howard Glazer is a survivor of these times. His CD Brown Paper Bag (Random Chance) gives a good sample of what he can do. His voice takes a bit of getting used to. It is not an ideal blues vehicle. Once you get past that you realize that he’s extended the tradition by working within it, inside-out. There are definite moments where influences of the Chicago urban blues greats are evident. Then there are traces of Johnny Winter and a little Hendrix too. He plays a vibrant electric in a blues trio format and the bassist and drummer back him with flair. Then he switches occasionally to a resonator and gets an even older sound. I found myself growing more and more pleased with his playing and concept the more I listened.

Guitarist Grant Green Plays Spirituals

Originally posted on April 1, 2008

Jazz guitarist Grant Green was one of the more important players in the ‘60s and yet he doesn’t get enough credit, then or now. Perhaps part of the reason is that he made so many albums for Blue Note that perhaps his best work is lost in the pile.

One I am listening to right now is OK but might qualify as part of the excess music making. It’s called Feelin’ the Spirit and features Herbie Hancock and Billy Higgins along with Grant. There’s nothing wrong with this disk. Grant puts together a program of rearranged spirituals and the band does its best to inject some soul into the proceedings. Grant’s sound is as usual—it’s what mainstream electric guitarists sounded like in the mid-sixties. If he had somehow shown more of an influence of the Chicago bluesmen, who cranked their amps and bent more notes, it might have worked better. But then he wouldn’t have sounded like Grant Green. It’s nice enough and there’s nothing awful about it. It just isn’t his best.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Delta Sax Quartet Do Soft Machine

Originally posted on March 27, 2008

This next one is not average fare. If you liked the progressive rock group Soft Machine, you know that over the course of their initial run, they were likely to give you intricate compositions that touched on minimalism while remaining firmly rooted in the jazz-rock and psychedelia modes. There is a new release out that covers some of the best of those pieces, but done by the Delta Saxophone Quartet (Dedicated to You. . . but You Weren’t Listening) (MoonJune). It’s a rather vital recreation of some of Soft Machine’s best, only transformed to a different musical medium.

As I listened for the first time, I thought to myself, “Hey! We were right all along about these guys.” Because the music still sounds fresh and in the moment. My favorite cut is “Facelift” which joins the quartet with Soft Machine’s bassist Hugh Hopper on his instrument and loops. This is a solid outfit and it’s the kind of CD that sounds good just about any time of day or mood you are in—at least for me.

Ornette with Two Bassists: His Best in Years

Originally posted on March 26, 2008

Ornette Coleman has unquestionably been a primary creative force in new jazz beginning with his initial recordings in the late ‘50s. His last CD continues that journey in a way that those who like the free thing will find thrilling. Sound Grammar was recorded live in Italy in 2005 (OK so I’m late getting to this).

It features Ornette with a quartet—two acoustic basses (one plucks, one bows) and Ornette’s son Denardo on drums. Denardo sounds better than ever and the two bassists really give the group a flair. Bassists don’t miss it! Ornette has refined his playing even further, it seems to me, and the mostly new compositions are fabulous. Order this one on Ornette’s website. File this review under “how did I miss this one?” or “better late than never.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Secret Oyster's Fourth Album Reissued

Originally posted on March 25, 2008

A little while ago I mentioned the ‘70s Danish fusion group Secret Oyster and their recently re-released first album on The Laser’s Edge (see March 6). The group’s fourth album, Straight to the Krankenhouse, is also available on the label.

Secret Oyster’s guitarist at that juncture was Claus Bohling and he’s very good indeed. I must admit I like the first album a little bit better. This one has plenty of musical substance to it, but perhaps just a little less of the fire. Still. . .

Some Ways to Change Your Guitar Sound

Originally posted on March 24, 2008

Today a few brief ideas about things to do to get a different guitar sound. Do you remember the band DNA? I believe the guitarist sometimes played a guitar that was strung with six high e strings. You could also try it with 6 low e's, but be careful with your nut and neck. Some people, like Derek Bailey, sometimes prepare their guitars by inserting objects into the strings: erasers, paper clips, clothespins, etc. If you have a double neck guitar, what about tuning the 12 string a full step up and alternate back and fourth between the two sequences of tonalities? For another effect Jeff Beck has been known to use a violin bow on his guitar.

Those sustainer kits and/or e-bows are very cool. I know somebody who used a vibrator on his strings (I mean the kind for massaging--no "x" rated material on this site!!) What else? I swear by my 12-string bass. It has the four usual bass strings plus two octave strands next to each. I am not selling it; it's too much a part of my arsenal. Anything else? Write in at with other ideas and I'll list them.

Richard Crandell's Thumb Piano Music

Originally posted on March 20, 2008

If you are a fan of the African thumb piano (mbira) or of musical minimalism, or you just like grooves, you probably want to sample Richard Crandell’s Tzadik album Spring Steel.

Crandell is a modern west coast composer man, not an African mbirist per se. He nevertheless has mastered the instrument and offers a CD length series of attractive numbers with percussionist Cyro Baptista. The music has a lyric touch but it rocks out in an African sort of way. It is one of those disks that just puts you in a nice frame of mind. It did to me anyway.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Few Goth Groups with Free Creative Commons Downloads

Originally posted on March 19, 2008

A moment to mention three Creative Commons (free downloads) goth groups you might want to do a search for if you like the genre.

Ofearia — Metal goth with a definite edge; and the lead singer isn’t at all bad.

Reverand Ghoul — a spookier side of things. Echo-atmospheric with some industrial shadings thrown in there.

Niteshade Kiss — a little more on the song side of the spectrum with some metal moments. Almost a very dark Smithereens, but not quite.

Try and/or a general search to find some of this.

Buckethead's Guitar Wizardry

Originally posted on March 18, 2008

If you don’t know who Buckethead is, maybe you should. If you know, you might check out his release on Tzadik Records, Kaleidoscalp.

It’s Buckethead all the way on this one, lots of his thrash metal guitar and diverse material, seemingly all multitracked by Buckethead, but that isn’t completely clear. Since Tzadik is a non-profit label and could use your support, this is a good place to begin.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jazz-Rock Fusion Today with Belgium's The Wrong Object

Originally posted on March 17, 2008

The world of jazz-rock has had its ups and downs in the past several decades. Once disco-funk invaded the world of fusion it seemed fashionable to turn away altogether. From around the time of the millennium, however, serious jazz-rock seemed to turn another page and the music began coming back.

One of the bands who is in the new vanguard is “The Wrong Object,” a horn and guitar oriented mid-size group that hails from Belgium. They began by playing covers of Frank Zappa’s music and broadened out with their own originals. A recent collaboration with the late Elton Dean, wind man for the Soft Machine and its modern-day offshoots, brought them to my attention (See my review in this past January’s Cadence Magazine). Moonjune Records has followed up with the band in its own full-flown glory, Stories from the Shed.

Bass and drums are in the tight yet busy and driving vein. Fred Delplanco on tenor and Jean-Paul Estievenart on trumpet and flugelhorn, respectively, form a solid ensemble and can solo with weight. Guitar and Electronics man Michel Delville plays an idiomatic axe that can groove as well as wail and writes much of the band’s material. Like the Later Soft Machine and Zappa, it is certainly the music itself that sets them apart. There is much of musical merit to digest on this disk and I recommend it highly.

Ladies of Gangster Rap?

Originally posted on March 12, 2007

Ladies of Gangster Rap (Deff Trapp). . . . Now I bought this for a dollar. No it wasn’t worth the effort. Lyrics are censored, so then what’s the point? You don’t get offended, but then again you don’t get any message at all. No thanks.

New Jazz From Bassist Adam Lane

Originally posted on March 11, 2008

For more cutting edge new jazz, consider upright bassist Adam Lane. He fronts a trio with saxman Vinny Golia and Vijay Anderson at the drums on several disks.

The one I’ve been listening to is Music Degree Zero (CIMP) and it’s a scorcher with the bonus of audiophile sound quality. Everyone is up for playing and it comes across as a definite statement of the music for today. There are others but this is a great place to start. I kid you not.

Steve Swell's Magical Listening Hour

Originally posted on March 10, 2008

To my mind trombonist/composer Steve Swell has become one of the key figures in the new jazz today. He has recorded a number of fine albums for CIMP, Cadence and others in the past, and he offers several limited edition CD-Roms of his music on his own website. Here is one of them: About a year ago he and his cohorts Louie Belogenis (tenor sax), Michael Attias (alto saxophone), and Nate Wooley (trumpet) played a concert as part of New York’s Vision Fest: Magical Listening Hour, Live @ The South Street Seaport. One of the hardest things to pull off I believe is a free session of all horns and no rhythm. That’s exactly what this ensemble does and does superbly.

There are two long sets captured on this CD-ROM disk. Continuously inventive sound events prevail. Sometimes there are a series of atmospheric long tones, sometimes sounds mixed with melodic lines. Various members of the ensemble take a sound-note role from time to time and interact as a multi-personed musical organism of the highest level. This is a very fine example of what four talented jazz hornmen can do when inspired. It’s well work picking up if you are so inclined. You can grab it at Steve Swell’s website [Note: This CD has now been released on Cadence Jazz Records. Find out more at]

Screaming Trees with a Sore Throat?

Originally posted on March 7, 2008

In my pursuit of alt classics I’ve been listening to Screaming Trees’ Nearly Lost You (Sony), and, well, it lost me. These guys were supposed to be cool. I don’t hear anything on this disk. OK, so Sony told them get a hit or die I guess. They did both? Neither? One of the two?!?

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Welcome Reissue of Secret Oyster's First Album

Originally posted on March 6, 2008

In 1973 Danish jazz-rock-fusion heavyweights Secret Oyster released their first LP on Danish CBS. I happened to have grabbed a copy of it then and I am glad I did. They released several records and then faded, but managed to stir up a following and a reputation.

Now after a skillion years Secret Oyster (Laser’s Edge) is back in print and it sounds as good now as it did then. Claus Bohling plays lead guitar and takes some pretty wild solos. Karsten Vogel on the saxes and Kenneth Knudsen on keyboards contribute distinctive instrumental offerings and the whole band clicks. It was that early, hell-for-leather era of fusion and the group crackles with raw power. If you like fusion, here’s a long-lost classic.

Lovely Music of the Judeo-Spanish Diaspora

Originally posted on March 5, 2008

Tzadik Records operates out of downtown NYC. It is perhaps one of America’s most unpredictable labels. Expect anything and you’ll be likely to get it. Formed by jazz-improv-composer John Zorn, the label is devoted to, but not limited to, radically conceived new Jewish music, rearrangements of traditional song, reconceptions of the Jewish diaspora conceptualized in the broadest sense, and fusions of traditional and non-traditional musics.

La Mar Enfortuna’s second album Convivencia pits the lovely vocals of Jennifer Charles with the arranging talents of Oren Bloedow from the downtown band Elysian Fields.

The program is an uncanny mix of reworked traditional music of the Judeo-Spanish Diaspora. It is completely eclectic in a semetic way. Haunting ouds mix with guitars mix with synths and /or anything that seems right for the musical moment. Ms. Charles has a wonderfully sultry voice and the disk comes off with a program worthy of a sleeper of the year award.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Granados' "Goyescas" for Classical Guitar

Originally posted on March 4, 2008

Although the percentage of the Euro-American classical CD output devoted to the guitar is not overwhelmingly large, one could spend many days auditioning the available discs. I have not done that, nor will I ever, I suspect. Time, money, opportunity seem to have their impact. Nonetheless I sample from time to time.

Naxos has a good one, a set of transcriptions of the piano suite Goyescas by Spanish composer Granados (1867-1916). Christopher Dejour has done a good job arranging these pieces for three guitars. Granados could be thought of loosely as a Spanish impressionist, and there are plenty of harmonic and melodic sophistications to bring out the sonority of the trio. It is a definite change of pace.

Pyeng Threadgill Sings the Blues

Originally posted on March 3, 2008

Pyeng Threadgill is a fresh young voice with enough musical energy to wake up your weary ears. She is currently working on her third CD. We take a peek at her first, Sweet Home (Random Chance, recorded 2003). It is a modern tribute to the music of blues pioneer Robert Johnson.

The arrangements are in a contemporary bag and Pyeng’s vocals tend to be oblique compared to a classical blues belt. She finesses, drops herself into a song to ride a tide of turbulence, with one foot in the present, one in the blues past. This is not nostalgia. It is a re-creation for today and thanks to Pyeng’s musical sensibility, it works.

McLaughlin, Pastorius, Williams, 1979

Originally posted on February 21, 2008

There was a point in the early-mid 70’s when fusion was king. Three musicians had much to do with that. I refer to John McLaughlin, guitar, Jaco Pastorious, bass, and Tony Williams, drums. Each were a big part of a group on the slicing edge of creativity at the time: the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Lifetime, respectively.

For an extraordinary brief space in musical time, the three banded together to form the Trio of Doom. Ostensibly the idea was to play the 1979 Havana Jam Festival. And their short 25 minute set was recorded by Columbia. McLaughlin at the time was not satisfied with the recorded results, so the band went into the studio to rerecord their tracks.

With several short alternate takes, the entire recorded output of the trio (some 40 minutes) has been released by Columbia Legacy on CD (Trio of Doom). Now this is not the best CD any of them have recorded. The nature of the one-shot appearance would certainly make that proposition unlikely. And there are only four pieces recorded multiple times. Yet the live spot is quite powerful, with all three showing why they were peerless on their instruments. And the studio set is a nice supplement. Anyone who is into any or all of these folks will certainly appreciate the CD. It is not perfect, not at all slick, and a worthy addition to your fusion collection.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Fripp and Eno's "Beyond Even (1992-2006)"

Originally posted on February 20, 2008

Guitarist Robert Fripp has established himself as one of the foremost contemporary progressive guitarists and musical thinkers from the time of his founding of King Crimson, through his League of Crafty Guitarists and today. Similarly, Brian Eno from his beginnings with Roxy Music, his remarkable solo albums, then onto his pioneering work in ambient music, has been one of the most provocative and innovative musicians alive. Fripp and Eno collaborated on two legendary albums in the ‘70s: No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. These works extended both of their musical vocabularies in long minimalist tape delay pieces with expressive guitar solos.

DGM Records has released an anthology of mostly unreleased later collaborations called Beyond Even (1992-2006) and it is great music. The limited first edition programs the material on two separate disks. The first separating each cut, the second moulding them together into one long piece. Eventually only disk two will be available. Personally I like both versions, but it is the music as a whole that matters. And that music is firmly ambient, with long labyrinths of drone sounds, spacey drum beats, psychedelic guitar loops, envelopes of event universes, and general atmospheric futurity. Don’t expect a lot of guitar soloing. This is a mind meld between the two creators and it is egoless in its own way. What Fripp solos there are, however, are excellent, especially his electric wailing overtop a metallic beat reverberance and spooky synth chords on “Cross Crises in Lust Storm.” It all makes me want to hear more. I hope they plan to go back into the studio soon, if they have not already. Great sounds from two great masters of the art!

The Cranberries (for Thanksgiving?)

Originally posted on February 19, 2008

As you might have gathered, here and again I have been surveying some classic alt CDs that had somehow missed my close inspection. And so we come to The Cranberries’ No Need to Argue (Island), a disk worthy of note. Steve DiMarchi, a newer member of the group, endorses Parker Guitars, just FYI. (My guitar shop carries them.) However, he is not on this album.

Dolores O’Riordan’s yodeling, sensuous and sensitive vocalizing is the centerpiece of the music. The songs are modern-sentimental and have melodic durability. There is a certain something melancholy about it all—in that sense they show the roots of traditional Irish music, where even in joy, sadness is never far away. Life is like that most of the time, today, at least for some of us. A good record for that mood, certainly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Elmer Bernstein's Concerto for Guitar

Originally posted on February 18, 2008

When people think of classical guitar, Christopher Parkening will inevitably come to mind among connoisseurs of the art. Elmer Bernstein, on the other hand, might not. He certainly will be remembered for his film scores, A Walk on the Wild Side, The Magnificent Seven, etc.

Before passing away in 2004, he wrote a Concerto for Guitar specifically for Parkening, which they recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1999 (Angel). It is a pleasantly diatonic work and the orchestral parts show some of the dramatic bombast of Bernstein’s film scores. The guitar parts do not seem especially difficult, but are memorable, idiomatic to the instrument, and are played with Parkening’s typical lyrical care. It is a refreshing listen.

Early Rap. Does it Sound Dated?

Originally posted on February 15, 2008

What occurs to me when listening to a collection of early rap (First Generation Rap—The Old School Sampler [Collectibles]), is not how the elements in today’s rap are germane to the first things, but how it could have developed at all out of those first attempts.

Grandmaster Flash and Doug E. Fresh, to take two examples, seem little more to me than cheerleaders for the disco scene in general and themselves and the dance audience in particular. That's what it comes out of, of course, but it just doesn't sound like something that will be remembered years from now. Simply said, it doesn’t speak to me at all today.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Inimitable Guitar Sounds of Derek Bailey

Originally posted on February 14, 2008

There are of course virtually infinite ways to play the guitar and an infinite number of styles possible. The late Derek Bailey tried to avoid any reference to harmony and, often, even any conventionally struck note. His musical vocabulary was made up of harmonics, string pulls, scratching the strings, and any or all manner of sounds.

He recorded a number of solo CDs, one of which, Improvisation (Ampersand), happens to be on my listening pile. It’s incredible what he does and what he DOESN’T do. Some people have reacted to his playing with, “Oh, anybody could do that.” But it isn’t so easy to speak a new instrumental language with the fluency he had. Try it. Or don’t. Nonetheless he pioneered a particular sound and nobody has done as well as he did in performing what he did.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some New Guitar Music; Jeff Furst Passes Away

Originally posted on February 13, 2008

When you talk about acoustic players, the field is vast and not as accessible as it could be. My old friend George turned me on to some really interesting music in this vein last week. There is a guy named Erik Mongraine who taps with both hands while the acoustic is on his lap. It’s amazing what sounds he gets. Check out the harmonics alone. See the youtube clip at

What about flamenco meets fusion? Go to and look up Paco Fernandez. Listen to “Gandi” and/or any of the others. Wow. Then look up the Brazilian acoustic master Lenine. Next, for a more rock influenced thing, listen to Cibelle. If you want more there is "ojos de drujo." Try a Google or a Yahoo search for them. I love the new and unknown. Surely these are interesting examples of that.

On a less bright note, I stumbled across an obituary on the net yesterday that shocked and saddened me. Jazz pianist and music educator Jeff Furst died last November. He was a brilliant pianist and an innovator in music ed. He was in a group in the sixties called fourth stream and he and clarinetist Bob Fritz did some out stuff with that group that gained critical success and a loyal following in the Boston area. I still have their first and, I believe, only album. It sounds good to me to this day. Then Jeff formed the Contemporary School of Music in the mid-70s in Brookline, Mass., which I attended for a while. It was a great place to learn, jam, and a sort of free-form deal where you took classes in what interested you. I also jammed with him, and that was a real moment. His touch on piano was amazingly vibrant, and he probably got that from the great piano teacher Madame Chaloff. He was only 63 when he died. I hope those who were affected by his musical vision will not forget. I won't.

Louis XIV? Off With Their (Amp) Heads!

Originally posted on February 12, 2008

Louis XIV. Who? It’s an alt group and the EP I’ve been checking out is called Illegal Tender (Pineapples). I’ve listened to it five times and it just doesn’t do anything for me. I believe this was their first. I’ve got another one on my pile. Why doesn’t it do anything? It’s alt but doesn’t seem to have much of an edge to it. The songs are a little whiny. None of the melodies stick out in my head. And instrumentally nobody seems to be kicking it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Green Day Sound Good To Me

Originally posted on February 12, 2008

Here I am with something a few years old and what of it? It’s Monday. Green Day’s American Idiot (Reprise) has an impertinence I like and as far as 3-4 chord bands go, this one is one of the best. They thrash, there’s some emo, tunefulness, and variety.

All young folks need a model and so here is one if you play bass, guitar or drums. We older folks need to respect anyone who injects some freshness into older models of playing.

The Electric Avant Guitar of Joe Morris

Originally posted on February 9, 2008

Joe Morris is an avant-jazz electric guitarist who released a nice CD in 2007 called Rebus (Clean Feed). He is joined by Chicago tenor stalwart Ken Vandermark and Luther Gray on drums. It is one of those freewheeling sessions that grows on you the more you listen. Each cut is loosely constructed and each has a varying mood. The stuff is mucho cool in my opinion and shows you what three improvisers can come up with when inspired and mutually attuned.

A good place to find it and other jazz obscurities is Check out the CD ordering service. They carry all kinds of hard to find and terrific jazz titles at decent prices. While we're at it for rock oddities is good.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Miles Davis and John McLaughlin Reunite, 1985

Originally posted on February 7, 2008

How many albums did guitarist John McLaughlin record with Miles Davis? I’ll let you answer that for yourself if you know but there may have been one you’ve neglected. In 1985 Miles entered the studio with John McLaughlin and others to perform Palle Mikkelborg’s compositions/arrangements in an album that became known as Aura (Columbia). Even though it took three years before the label put it out, it is hands-down one of the absolute best of the last years of Miles’ output. It is steaming, thick, complex, hot music with a burning cool in the middle. A true classic of fusion. Look for it if you want to hear something different.

Defunkt in 1990

Originally posted on February 6, 2008

And then there is Defunkt. It’s a mid-sized band that began under leader Joseph Bowie in 1978. I believe they are still together. The CD I’ve been checking out is Defunkt Live at the Knitting Factory (Enemy) recorded in NYC 1990.

Now I don’t know enough about their extensive discography to tell you whether their sound has changed in any big way since that period, but what they did back then was a volatile mix of funk, rock, jazz and avant elements. I suspect they are doing much the same today. Bill Bickford was playing a raucous funk electric guitar and the band had gotten pretty tight. It was a bit too "in your face" to get a lot of commercial attention. There are some real moments on the disk, though.

About the advertisements that Google has placed on this blogsite: at the moment many of them are direct competitors of the outlet I operate at Gapplegate Music ( The best of luck to the others. Check them and check our deals too. There's plenty of room for the everyone. We only ask for your consideration.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Frank Hewitt, A Jazz Pianist that Deserves Recognition

Originally posted on February 5, 2008

From electric yesterday to acoustic today. I refer to the Frank Hewitt Trio. Hewitt was a jazz pianist in the tradition of such boppers as Monk, Bud Powell, and Elmo Hope. He died in this decade with recognition only starting to come his way. In no tiny part that recognition had to do with his playing at the NYC club Smalls, that gave him a steady gig and also recorded his performances.

The latest CD is called Out of the Clear Black Sky (Smalls) and it is a joyful and idiosyncratic romp through some jazz standards. Now when you see “Misty” or “The Girl from Ipanema” on a song list, you might assume that you are in for a stereotypical club session. Not so here. Frank devotes personal attention to every song on this CD, giving his own unconventional spin on every phrase. There is a seemingly relaxed, almost casual approach to his instrument, but he fully centers every moment on what he intends. That is in part what a great jazzman can do—make the complicated sound simple and instantaneously a part of that very moment of creation. Here is a man who was ignored by the jazz establishment much of his life. He fully deserves the attention he is getting now.

The Future of Rock Guitar; Stone Temple Pilots

Originally posted on February 4, 2008

Not everything electric is good, obviously, in spite of Thomas Edison and his wonderful light bulb. That bulb is soon to disappear, but the electric guitar and electric bass show no signs of extinction. In fact, even at this moment there are those who are perfecting the art of playing; ever since Charlie Christian first plugged in that has been true. I jammed with my brother-in-law and my 7th grade nephew yesterday and I was amazed at how far the latter had come. With young people like him the future of electricity and the music it makes possible look to be in good hands.

I never had the chance to check out Stone Temple Pilots until recently. (I don’t much listen to the radio anymore, so I can be isolated from certain immediate happenings sometimes.) I got a hold of their compilation Thank You (Atlantic) and find much to like. There is some of the melodic angst of a Kurt Cobain, memorable songs, and plenty of electricity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Teagle's History of Washburn Guitars

Originally posted on February 1, 2008

I believe there are a number of books on the history of Washburn Guitars. The one I read was written by John Teagle (Washburn: Over One Hundred Years of Fine Stringed Instruments.) It begins with the founding of the company in the 1800s and ends up in the mid’90s. It’s a good read and has plenty of illustrations. I suspect there may have been later editions but either way it’s fascinating in its discussion of the musical instrument business, especially the early days. Washburn comes off as an innovator through the years. Check it out.

Guitarist Towner and Oregon: 1000 Kilometers

Originally posted on January 31, 2008

The phenomenal guitarist Ralph Towner and his cooperative group Oregon have been making great music since the late sixties. They have always had the knack of combining elements of world music, especially classical music from India, contemporary western classical, jazz, avant-garde and fusion with their own personal blend of sounds that has put them apart. With the tragic death of sitar-tabla-percussionist Colin Walcott in the ‘70s, they began a period with the exceptional percussionist-drummer Trilog Gurtu. Nowadays it is Mark Walker ably fulfilling that function. The rest of the lineup remains unchanged since its conception. Ralph also plays piano, there’s Paul McCandless playing distinctively an array of woodwinds, and the foundational yet exploratory bassist Glen Moore.

The latest CD 1000 Kilometers (CamJazz) involves a dedication to their late, long-time agent Thomas Stowsand. As always there are moments of quietly thoughtful music, more vibrantly percussive numbers and much in between. Each member is a master of his instrument. As a guitarist, you must not miss Ralph Towner’s playing if you don’t know it already. (He sticks with the nylon stringed classical instrument for this recording.) The same is true of Glen and Paul’s playing, and the “new” guy is darned good too. They write some wonderful music and improvise over it with careful virtuosity. You could call it mood music for cosmic introspection, but that might sound like you’re not supposed to listen to it. You are. You should.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells

Originally posted on January 30, 2008

I’ve spoken of guitarist Buddy Guy before. I have another one on my list lately, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (Castle). It’s one of those cobbled together things, sounds like from the ‘70s or ‘80s, but it has some nice moments with harmonica-vocalist Wells and his forceful blues attack trading lines with Buddy. One of my favorite Buddy Guy records was on Delmark. It included a blues to Chicago’s Mayor Daley (the first one) that was pretty amusing. I don’t know if it is still in print. Have to look for it again.

Lester Young at Birdland

Originally posted on January 29, 2008

Tenor saxophonist Lester Young invented “cool.” Any self-respecting guitarist or bassist, musician or music fan. . . all should know his work, really. One of the first things I had to do when I studied with Barry Altschul years ago was to learn a Lester Young solo by heart and then sing along with it. I chose one of his later live solos from the fifties. What a revelation. He was such a melodist and what he played was his alone, although he influenced many jazz musicians both during his lifetime and after. His post-World War II period is sometimes discounted as not as great as what went before. I don’t really agree. Much of everything he played in later years was more concentrated, pithy and to the point. Allowing for a few mannerisms he picked up in response to JATP crowds—like playing one note with two alternating fingerings so it would sound alternatingly different—he is a more minimalist version of his former self. So what is wrong with that?

Lester was a fixture at the New York jazz club Birdland through most of the ‘50s. ESP Disk has issued a couple of radio broadcasts of his appearances there (Live at Birdland) and if you don’t know his work at all, it is one place to start. About half of the CD features a band that included a young Horace Silver on piano and it’s prime material. The recording quality is fair to good—they were radio transcriptions and sound the way most of them did. The playing, however, is what counts. Lester is in typically fine form throughout. The backup band in the last half of the disk is not always up to his level. But for Lester alone, it’s worth the price of admission.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fort Minon and the Possibility of Hip-Hop Metal

Originally posted on January 28, 2008

Hip-hop with electric guitars? Well, yeah in a few passages. If somebody ever successfully melded hip-hop with metal, they would be a sensation. (Have I missed anybody that has? I don’t know.) Fort Minon’s CD The Rising Tied (Machine Shop) has something to say and there are plenty of musical elements, even if there isn’t anything like a complete fusion taking place. They cajole people out there not to panic; they tell the story of a Japanese-American concentration camp victim, and otherwise broach topics not always a part of the genre. That’s cool with me.

The Lemon Pipers and the Advent of the Rock Guitar Band

Originally posted on January 25, 2008

The later mid-sixties established electric guitars and basses as absolute components of the advanced rock bands. Keyboards were considerably diminished in importance, with the exception of bands like the Doors or Vanilla Fudge. Of course it was the influence of the Beatles that brought this phenomenon into play. Countless neighborhood bands sprang up, each trying to find a way into the glory and musical heights of the successful bands. With the Yardbirds and Jeff Beck, and later, Cream, the lead guitarist as virtuoso and kind of god developed and from that burgeoned psychedelic jam music and ultimately metal. There was much music in the air, some that today we might reject as dated. Nevertheless it was a time when people awakened to the idea that rock could be a serious music.

At the beginning of this heady time a number of rock groups charted with singles yet could not sustain themselves as an “album” band. It was a transition period where AM top forty was still the main component of success; the FM “underground” type stations were to have nascent beginnings, brought on in part by the extended forms, concepts and contents that a three-minute single could not contain. But they were not really there yet. In the midst of the early phase of this emerged a band called the Lemon Pipers. They had a big hit in “Green Tambourine” but did not manage to sustain the momentum. It is interesting to listen to a compilation of their Golden Classics (Collectibles) to hear them struggle to transform into a serious band. There are obscure lyrics here and there, and a kind of instrumental earnestness that pulled them in a direction of a journey that ultimately they were not to complete. Too bad. The compilation has its moments. It’s probably only for the die-hard historian of the period or for nostalgic hipsters, though.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ike and Tina Turner on Sue Records

Originally posted on January 24, 2008

The sixties were born in a blaze when Ike Turner played a signature guitar intro to Ike and Tina’s hit “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.” It was a rhythmic chord progression played on an electric guitar with, of course, a tube amp of the time. He dialed up the tremolo setting and, for about 16 seconds, created an icon of guitar playing. It still sounds great. What follows of course is a powerful vocal dialogue with Tina belting it out like nobody else back then. It’s on an Ike & Tina Turner Golden Classics CD (Collectibles) and classics they are.

Only the Everly Brothers rivaled Ike at the time for signature guitar chord intros, like on “Wake Up Susy” or “Bird Dog.” OK, you can’t leave out Bo Diddley either. Anyway the Ike & Tina CD consists of all (?) of the material they recorded for Sue Records, from 1960 to 1962. These are some killer tracks, with Tina just astounding. Listen to her on “Poor Fool” or “A Fool in Love” and you’ll know that she had more soul that the rest of the world put together. Indispensable stuff.

The White Stripes' "Icky Thump"

Originally posted on January 23, 2008

One electric guitar, one set of drums. That was the initial line up of White Stripes, and it continues to be. Their relatively new CD Icky Thump (Warner Brothers) has them mastering another instrument—the studio.

This new set combines some appealing riffs, a good hook here and there, and the beginnings of a studio mastery that includes use of effects, musical double-tracking, and a fullness and ambiance of sound not previous equaled in their efforts. I find it quite refreshing and wish them continued success.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lightnin' Hopkins and the Transition from Country to Urban Blues

Originally posted on January 22, 2008

Texas-originated Lightnin’ Hopkins was a charismatic transitional figure between the country blues and the urban blues that especially came out of Chicago beginning in the late '40s. He often played a solo acoustic guitar and sang, later he might use a semi-hollow, but the essential performances were made with just him and his guitar. What he played on that guitar was often boogie based and could easily have been transposed to an electric band without difficulty. Yet his roots were in the rural style he grew up with, so there can be some variation in the number of bars in the blues form and other asymmetrical features and nuances.

I have a CD on my listening pile right now that was released on Legacy International. It is called The Best of Lightnin’ Hopkins, but I wouldn’t say it is quite of that caliber. He is joined by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee for a more or less casual sounding jam session on about half the cuts and, as much as I appreciate those artists, they take away slightly from what Lightnin’ Sam would have done on his own. Still it’s nice enough. Mr. Hopkins had a sense of humor, a knack for story telling or scene setting and some elemental but perfect guitar accompaniment abilities.

Sade's Live Album Reconsidered

Originally posted on January 18, 2008

Sade made a huge impact in the early ‘90s with several hits and some great albums. The guitar parts for some of the songs, like “No Ordinary Love” for example, were distinctive and said very much with minimal means. Of course Sade’s voice was and is a major instrument. So why has it taken me so long to listen to Lovers Live (Epic) a set of concert performances released in 2002? Sometimes I get backlogged. The CD has some of her best songs and they vary enough from the originals to be worth hearing on their own. The band is tight and she sounds beautiful as always. Next week we’ll kick up some dust with a varied assortment of things.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Classic Blue Note Jazz From Bobby Hutcherson

Originally posted on January 17, 2008

The situation of jazz around 1965 was interesting. Although rock was carving ever larger portions of the musically American pie, jazz was in one of its fruitful, increasingly innovative periods. There were the mainstream cats, plenty of them, playing some of their best music, there was the progressive branch, guys like Miles Davis, some of whom would go on to fuse jazz and rock, and there was the “new thing” or “free” school—late-period Coltrane, Ayler, Cecil Taylor and such—who were playing wild music that some people found downright puzzling. Interestingly, all three branches survive into today, although most radio stations don’t play it, and a very few play some of it, in the US anyway.

The current CD on my desk is somewhere between the progressive and free schools. Recorded in 1965 for Blue Note, it is a total classic and one of my favorite recordings. It’s by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and it’s called Dialogue. What’s great about this one is, first of all, the contributions of each member of the group. The agile, exceptionally musical trumpet of Freddie Hubbard, the volcanic and uniquely singular Sam River on woodwinds, Bobby Hutcherson’s thoughtful vibes and marimba, the angular piano of Andrew Hill, Richard Davis’s insistently driving bass and Joe Chamber’s lithely floating drumming—these musicians make the set truly improvisatory in the best sense. They all mesh together in a single idiom, yet they are all staunchly individual in their approach. The tunes themselves are extremely interesting and make the album extraordinarily satisfying. Andrew Hill wrote a bunch of them; Joe Chambers wrote two. It is just wonderful music. And it shows a respect for the structure of a particular original song form while giving plenty of room for the soloists to express themselves. It is not a widely remembered recording, to my knowledge, but I recommend it highly to anyone who wishes to explore where things came from that are a part of the music of today.

Gamelan and Kejak from Bali

Originally posted on January 16, 2008

In the bitter winter [I wrote this in the middle of January] it might be hard to imagine a tropical “paradise” in full bloom, but that is more or less what it’s like on the island of Bali, just at the tip of Indonesia. It’s not entirely a paradise—no place is that. Historically and I hope through to today it has been a center of beautiful music and dance, in the complex called gamelan. The music first gained some attention in the Western world through a series of 78s made by Dutch Odeon in the ‘30s. It attracted the attention of Colin McPhee, who spent a number of years in Bali before WWII and wrote some important books and monographs on the scene, bringing the genre to the attention of many music people in the West. With the advent of high fidelity recordings, educational programs in Ethnomusicology and a new audience looking for expanded sounds Balinese Gamelan music began to get pretty good coverage with recordings released here in the States and Europe. Nonesuch Records was one of the labels to cover the music intelligently and in some depth.

Here on my desk is a CD copy of one of their later releases Gamelan and Kejak. Recorded around 1986, it has a good sampling of the various ensembles. Gamelan orchestras consist of a number of metallic instruments, something like gongs and vibraphones, plus percussion and flute. The music is of incredible complexity. Each orchestra instrument plays a characteristic role and the result can be thought of as one monstrous musical organism. Included on the CD is an excerpt of a Kejak, a vocal piece notable for the imitation of the sound of monkeys chattering, only transposed into something very percussive and musical. If you’ve never heard gamelan music, you could learn much by listening. Then figure out what you would do on guitar or bass in the orchestra!! Or don't. Just listen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Live Earth: Concerts for a Climate in Crisis

Originally posted on January 15, 2008

Almost nobody needs to be told that our environment is in trouble. Of course our dependence upon oil and those who set the prices makes the crisis that much more acute, even if consumption should theoretically be going down. We need to look to new leadership in the future, leadership that can think and act long-term on these issues.

So a two DVD, one CD set of The Concerts for a Climate in Crisis: Live Earth (Warner Brothers) might be called a “natural” for the times we are enduring. And it is. It is a current gathering of mainstream stars and a few edgier acts in support of a cause that certainly means something. I haven’t viewed the DVDs yet, but the CD is well constructed. Madonna, Foo Fighters, The Police, John Mayer, Roger Waters, Bon Jovi, Linkin Park, and James Blunt are some of the contributors, some new, some older school. It’s good if that’s what you like. And of course the message needs to go out.

Rocking with Jimmy Reed

Originally posted on January 14, 2008

“I’m goin’ to New York, gonna get there if I have to walk.” So sings Jimmy Reed on the first cut of his 1959 VeeJay album Rockin’ with Reed (Collectibles). OK, so I did another of his albums earlier, but it’s Monday and this one speaks to me.

It has all that great Reed interlocking guitar and bass, all the laconic charm of his vocal style, and some real classics. “Caress Me Baby,” “Take Out Some Insurance,” “Going to New York” kick serious blues butt and the rest of the cuts do it too. Since my car is in the shop, I would have to walk if I were going to New York. But I am not. Instead it’s time for Cadence reviews.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Shadows of Knight: Garageband Pioneers

Originally posted on January 11, 2008

There were prototypical garage bands in the sixties that, through their popularity, legitimized the raw sound of cranked (with tube distortion, of course) relatively low-watt guitar amps, raucous vocals and loud drumming. There were for example the Seeds, the Velvets, Stooges, Castaways, and Chicagoland’s the Shadows of Knight.

The latter band hit the big time by doing a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria” in 1966. Their first album was a classic in the genre, covering blues standards and semi-psychedelic originals with equal distinction.

Unfortunately the small local label Dunwich, to which they signed, came and went. Other labels took them on, not always fortuitously. The two (?) albums that followed did not quite capture that raw power, although there were cuts that came close. The CD at hand is from a date they did toward the end of their initial existence. It is The Shadows of Knight Live in Rockford, Il. 1972 (Performance CD). Although it only runs thirty-some-odd minutes, it gives you an idea of the band’s continued generation of excitement, albeit in an evolved form that brought them closer to the sounds of Cream and Blue Cheer. It is a nice little set. Check it out if you are so inclined.

The Black Keys Do More with Less

Originally posted on January 10, 2008

White Stripes made people take notice with an instrumentation that consisted only of an electric guitar and drums. There’s another group that is doing the same with a recent CD called Magic Potion (Nonesuch). They are Black Keys. It’s a bluesy sound with riffing guitar and blue note rock vocals. They remind me of the band Free a little, in that there’s a blues underpinning to everything they do. The tunes are well paced and the CD is quite enjoyable.

I must rush away. It's time we ship a bass to Norway.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Bobby Few and Avram Fefer Quartet, CIMP Records

Originally posted on January 9, 2008

CIMP (Creative Improvisation Music Projects) is a CD label run by the folks at Cadence Magazine. They have hundreds of interesting releases under their belt. Essentially the label is devoted to uncompromising, serious jazz and free music. Each record uses audiophile two-microphone placement and no additional processing. All that enables them to retain an authentically live feeling to the recording and a full dynamic spectrum.

One of the better CDs CIMP has released in the last couple of years is Sanctuary (CIMP 333) by the Bobby Few and Avram Fefer Quartet. Pianist Few has been around for years, playing with Albert Ayler and Steve Lacy, among others. He seems to have come into his own significantly in recent times. His partner on soprano and tenor saxophone, Avram Fefer, has paid his dues and makes a perfect co-leader with virtuosity and musical sensitivity.

The rhythm section of Hilliard Greene on upright bass and Newman T. Baker on drums drives the music forward with good energy. Each of the six original compositions has its own sound and structure. The relationship between compositions and improvisations is logical and appealing. The CD constitutes a notable gathering of some of the more important creative Jazz people of today. You can check it out along with other CIMP releases at

Just A Little Bit About Radiohead and the "Product Cycle"

Originally posted on January 8, 2008, with subsequent paragraphs written just now, thank you.

Another day. I’ve been catching up on some alt rock classics I missed when tethered to my desk at a publishing company. Radiohead’s The Bends (1995) (Parlaphone) would certainly qualify as a classic. It is a near perfect rock CD, with hooks, effective vocals and solid rock instrumentation.
I could be wrong but it seems in today's disposable culture that a musical release like The Bends could be some sort of a classic and basically still get swept away for the next "big thing." Then that next, next thing comes along and the previous next thing gets swept away in turn. I'm reminded of the old Warner Brothers cartoon where there's a talent contest with "Jack Bunny" and the cute little owl waits his turn as act after act does its bit, Jack rings the bell and the trap door opens to remove the would-be creator of a "classic." Then it's on to the next "talent." Maybe the music scene can be like that.

I had the misfortune of first entering the music business for the two seconds when disco prevailed in the music world. "Do you like disco?" my soon-to-be-boss asked me in the first interview. "Sure," I replied, thinking to myself "what the hell is disco?" Well I quickly found out. Then in two years I watched it disappear from the face of the earth, except as nostalgia. Are any of the styles popular today destined to share that fate? No answer.

Or there's the "Beaver Cleaver" effect. That's the opposite. It's when something just won't go away even though the jig is up. Anybody who watched that show (Leave It To Beaver) all the way through to the last season may remember that there was a point where Beaver was getting much too old to be the precociously prescient lad he was at the beginning. He still wore the hat, dragged his lunchbox with him out the front door at the beginning of the show, but he looked like he was 19 then, which he may have been. It just didn't work any more. Somebody like Miley Cyrus may be getting to that point shortly, who knows? Ultimately does anybody but Miley and her manager and her parents particularly care? That's a little sad.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hayseed Dixie Do Kiss Bluegrass Covers!?!

Originally posted on January 7, 2008

I bought a CD on a lark (it was a cutout) and am just getting around to listening to it. Bluegrass cover versions of tunes by Kiss? Yes, as unlikely a combo as you might ever see on either front. I worry that Kiss fans won’t like it because it is bluegrass, and bluegrass fans won’t like it because it is Kiss.

Hayseed Dixie’s Kiss My Grass (Dualtone) is actually pretty darned decent, considering. The instrumental proficiency of the players is high, the vocals are OK and, yes, those Kiss songs are there in profusion (although the CD is only thirty-something minutes long). “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Love Gun” and other Kiss icons are here. Suit yourself if you come across the CD.

Ween's Album "La Cucaracha"

Originally posted on January 4, 2008

I don’t quite know what to make of the band Ween and their CD “La Cucaracha” (Rounder). I know they have been respected as a jamband for a number of years, but on this album they are all over the place, a little in the way of the band Cake. It’s a kind of pop-rock amalgam and there are pseudo-country tunes, quirky pop numbers and generally they do things that are melodically memorable.

There is a cut that makes the whole album worthwhile, however, called “Woman and Man.” It’s an extended Santana-flavored jamband number with nice guitar soloing. I’d love to hear more of that from them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Psychedelic" Peruvian Cumbia

Originally posted on January 3, 2008

Between 1968 and 1978 a number of Peruvian bands recorded a series of electric-guitar oriented cumbias that have now been issued in the US as a CD (The Roots of Chicha: Psychedelic Cumbias from Peru) (Barbes). Although not really psychedelic, the music reflects the influence of the rock of the period. It also incorporates traditional Peruvian music, flavors of African highlife, salsa, ska and Congolese soukous. It is an intriguing and varied mix of musical sounds and rhythms. The CD offers music different from the everyday fare and a refreshing listen.

David Phillips and Freedance, 1995

Originally posted on January 2, 2008

Happy New Year! May it be less miserable than the last one. The internet is so slow this morning that it is almost impossible to call up anything. Growl. . . .Today is a day for some worthy jazz. There’s a group called David Phillips & Freedance, or sometimes just Freedance, and they have been together for some time.

They did a self-titled CD for Naxos in 1995 and it is worth picking up. The group consists of sax, drums, bass and guitar and they are in a good place on the progressive jazz map, just bordering on fusion without going there. They write interesting numbers and improvise with assurance and verve. The guitarist, Rez Abbasi has his own voice—pretty electric, a little John Abercrombie and a little of his Indian background. He should be heard by anyone interested in the idiom. And this CD is a very good listen in general.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ike Turner, Carl Perkins, Joanna Newsom

Originally posted on December 26-28, 2007

Everybody knows Tina Turner and lots of people remember when it was Ike and Tina, but before there was all that, Ike Turner was an important leader-arranger and soloist in the blues and r&b genres. There is a CD of the recordings he made under his own name and with others for Modern Records in the ‘50s: Rhythm Rockin’ Blues (Ace). It’s filled with some gem cuts, and includes some great Ike guitar. “Rocket 88” will knock your socks off, as will his “Blues Medley.” “I Ain’t Drunk” is funny as hell. It is all worthwhile.

Let us all hope for a better new year—with some peace and understanding in the world. See you in 2008!

(December 27, 2007:) As we approach another new year I naturally seem to get into a reflective mode. It seems the further we go into the new Millennium, the more critical it is to keep alive the roots that make the music of today possible. I have been as guilty as anyone of sometimes discounting or neglecting the people who made concrete the idea of picking up a guitar or bass and playing a certain way. One of those artists certainly was Carl Perkins. He did get the recognition he deserved later in his career, but the original landmark Sun recordings he made in the ‘50s did not initially bring him worldwide acclaim. It was the covers that other artists made of his songs that helped introduce him to a larger audience, of course. “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Honey Don’t,” “Matchbox,” and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby” are perfect examples.

A CD came out a while ago featuring two Sun LP compilations: Blue Suede Shoes and Original Golden Hits on the Collectables/Sun Collectors Series. It is a good set. All the tunes mentioned above are on there, plus a good number of other ones. What strikes me as I listen to the CD is how much of his output had a country flair and how low his lead guitar was in the mix. His special way of guitar picking formed one of the main influences on the rockabilly style and of course his vocal approach was also widely influential. Nevertheless the heavy balance in favor of guitars his music inspired really wasn’t as present on his first recordings as was the case later. And the more country-inspired numbers are not often remembered. But everything still sounds fresh and inspiring to me, especially when contemplating the year to come.

(December 26, 2007:) Happy Boxing Day, for those countries that celebrate. Not here in the USA, alas. I am back after a brief respite and today perhaps it is time for some quieter music. Joanna Newsom would fit the bill. She sings and plays a stringed harp like an angel. A somwhat quirky angel she is. Joanna’s voice makes her sound like she is twelve years old, but I am sure she is not. A CD of hers, The Milk-Eyed Mender (DC), is about three years old or so, and that’s the one I have been playing. The songs are whimsical and somehow hearken to an unspecified previous time in this or some other world, or at least a less urban world of today. Acoustic folkies could learn something from her harp playing. This is folk music coming from another place. It is innocent sounding in a way, but more than that, it is honest.

Burton Greene, Shinedown, Steve Reich

Originally posted on December 21, 2007

Free jazz is a music that came out of the US beginning in the early-to mid-sixties and spread over the planet. It survives today among dedicated musicians and an equally dedicated audience. Probably the first record label to cover the music in depth was ESP-Disk, a New York based company that had an open view of what people might want to hear. Around 1965 they recorded Burton Greene’s Bloom in the Commune. It has been out of print for many years and recently, with the revival of ESP, has been reissued. Now you either like free jazz or you don’t.

Those that do and those looking to experience it, can do no better than with this release. Burton Greene was and is a pioneering pianist of the music. He coaxes all kinds of sounds out of the piano, getting inside it and playing it like a harp, percussively assaulting it with a two-fisted heartiness, quieting down for a lyrical moment. This first release of Greene’s features Marion Brown on alto sax, who wails and warbles his way through the cuts. He is joined by tenor saxman Frank Smith, adding a deeper tone to the proceedings. Henry Grimes, the bassist, is a volcano of sound and brings an especially rugged edge to the group texture. He was an incredible bassist and he has come back on the scene after disappearing for many years. Here he is in his prime. There are two different drummers depending on the cuts, and they apply a smeared free tempoed wash behind the soloists. This is not music for everybody. Nonetheless it still sounds completely contemporary. There is a timeless quality to the music, in more ways than one. And the reissue features some bonus tracks consisting of interesting retrospective interviews with Greene and ESP-Disk founder Bernard Stollman. The remastering is well done. Go to if you want to order a copy.

Changing gears, I am also checking out an alternative rock band that released a CD called Us and Them a few years ago on Atlantic. I refer to Shinedown. Listening to the CD, I fail to have much to say about it, except that there are memorable melodies and a thickly applied musicianship. It’s just likeable.

One more CD for Friday. The music form sometimes called “minimalism” had its heyday in the ‘70s, but continues on in some form or other today. Many of the absolute classics of the music were written by New Yorker Steve Reich. Up there among the few absolute knockout pieces is his Drumming which was appealingly recorded a few years ago by So Percussion (Cataloupe), although there have been others as well. This version has a kick to it. Basically, the piece involves four percussionists, plus flute and vocals, driving through a cyclical, post-African set of ever-evolving rhythmic figures. They start on tom toms, move to marimbas, then glockenspiels, and finally combine all four instruments. It certainly could be called toe-tapping music, and all musicians can learn from listening to it, I have no doubt! Have a good weekend.