Tuesday, May 23, 2017
When I think of a recording of a classical duo, any one, I don't usually think of a piano and a trumpet. I have nothing personally against either instrument, it's just that they are both so expressive and dynamic and it seems they might need a middle-man, say a violin, to provide a smooth transition. If you have a huge selection of piano and trumpet duos in your record collection, you might think I'm an idiot and that I need to hear "this" or "this" before I make such broad generalizations. On the other hand, you might agree. If you do, I can write the phrase "classical trumpet and piano duo" and I bet you think you have a pretty clear idea of what that sounds like.
That was my problem when I first approached the latest release from 2L Recordings in Norway, Furatus. I even sat and listened to the first piece, Edvard Grieg's "Holberg-Suite," and thought yes, this is a fine recording of a trumpet and a piano captured in yet another spectacular Norwegian church. The two instruments in question sound properly expressive and properly dynamic, two very focused voices in a rather large space. But, as general Akbar once said a long time ago, it's a trap.
The Grieg piece is dignified and structured. The four pieces after that, composed by Kosaku Yamada, Dmitri Shostakovich, Geirr Tveitt and Carl Nielsen, will confound your expectations with a tutorial on emotional depth. Suddenly you're absorbed. Suddenly it's no longer about a trumpet and a piano. It's about two musical extroverts learning how to weave and waltz and play off the other's energy. It's about moods and feelings and distinct visuals you might not normally associate with these two instruments.
This understated success is obviously due to the performances of trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen and pianist Wolfgang Plagge. (In addition to his C trumpet, Antonsen also uses a cornet and piccolo trumpet to accomplish these textures.) As usual, the musical program has a rewarding and cerebral subtext--in this case it's pieces of music that "borrow ideas" from much older pieces. According to the liner notes, this practice became very popular during the Romantic Period and was considered a true art form...if it was done with intelligence.
The Grieg piece was written in 1884 and uses many ideas from dance music from the 18th century. Nielsen's Humoresque-Bagatelles, which serves as the other bookend for Furatus, also pays tribute to light, happy and energetic dances from Western Europe--although it has a much more reserved tone because it's been tempered by what songs preceded it. It's those three pieces in the middle--Yamada's Songs, Shostakovich's Three Fantastic Dances and Tveitt's Hardingtonar--that provide the beating heart and the weathered soul of the album, the sense of a sometimes dangerous journey that needs to be taken between the two celebrations. This is where the trumpet and piano begin a dance of their own, away from the dancers, to a new locale where crystal chandeliers and opulent horse-drawn coaches are not the norm.
That's why Furatus is so breathtaking--it takes you to a lot of places in your heart, places you weren't expecting to visit with a pianist and a trumpeter. While the "borrowing ideas" motif is challenging in an academic sort of way, I think the true passion and the attraction of this album is how it takes two common instruments and blends them into something new. If you make it well into the heart of this album and come out the other side, you'll understand.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
When I first saw the title of this new Billy Jones CD, 3's a Crowd, I instantly thought of trios. Jazz trios. Drums, bass and piano. Drums bass and sax. And then I started listening to the opening title cut, with its beautifully recorded but suspiciously sparse arrangements and thought that something was missing. In this case it would be the upright bass or any other musical instrument that could join the sax and the drums. Because just the sax and the drums and nothing else, well that's...uh, a duo. Of course it's a duo and of course the phrase three's a crowd implies two is better.
I got all the way through this ten track CD before this idea occurred to me. Jazz duos.
Most of the jazz I listen to is from small ensembles--usually quartets, sometimes more, sometimes way more--but I've always thought that jazz and rock require three elements to keep everything in balance, just like the proverbial three-legged stool. Drums, bass and some sort of solo/lead instrument create the types of sounds that we best associate with a complete ensemble, therefore we can safely say that trios are about as minimalist as you want. Drummer Billy Jones came up with a different idea.
"This project, that I have been conceptualizing for years, places the drums in constant dialogue with one other instrumentalist. The challenge now--to raise the drums from its traditional role as accompaniment, to that of partner to that other voice."
Once you wrap your head around that idea, these ten tracks start to take shape. Jones enlisted help from a variety of musicians from both coasts in two different sessions. That means you get Jones' earthy and imaginative beats with George Young's alto sax or Mick Rossi's piano or George Genna's vibraphone or Scotty Wright's vocals or Gary Meek's bass clarinet or Kenny Stahl's flute. I think that's what makes this album so engaging--the constant shifts in tone and structure that the different instruments bring to the song. On an even deeper level, you'll notice how Jones adapts his own playing to the "personality" of that partner, that other voice. When you think of musical projects like this, you might think of a big star working with lesser stars who just do their best to keep up. But Jones is very generous with his guests and that warmth fills in the cracks of the spaces.
Again, this is yet another contemporary jazz recording on redbook CD from a small indie label (Acoustical Concepts) that sounds absolutely incredible. The space is immense, but the perspective is close. You can hear every little detail in Jones' drumming, which is necessary because he plays with so much subtext. It's a strikingly original album, and it's quite fun.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
I've waded into this sea, and it's full of riptides. It's not easy to find an entry point for music like this. I don't know who Rocco John is (his full name is Rocco John Iacovone), I don't know who Will Connell is and I've never heard of the Improvisational Composers Ensemble. This is a recording however, where Rocco John uses the Improvisational Composers Ensemble to pay tribute to Will Connell in front of a very small but appreciative audience.
Next we can establish that this is free jazz because the first tune, the 23-minute long "Aurora Borealis," starts off with a section that begins in a troubled mood and then slowly builds into a cacaphony. The first time I heard this, I had to hit the stop button and yell out "Enough." There are rewards when you stick with it--the middle section is calmer and makes more sense. But this is advanced stuff, noise for those who understand noise and practically no one else. Toward the end we get an interesting drum solo before returning to the somber themes of the first couple of minutes. It's a challenge.
That's just the opening track. "Evolutions" is the second of three cuts on the album and it's well over 16 minutes long. It's also far more melodic, bluesy and sexy and I actually really like it--even through the more jagged passages. You might want to start here if you're not in the mood for a 23-minute baptism by fire. The album ends with "What If the Moon Were Made Out of Jazz," which clocks in at a mere 22:30, borders on lovely with its rich combination of saxophones and bass clarinet until it too falls into the sea.
If you've been reading my reviews, you know I ain't afraid of no free jazz. Here I almost have to step back and recuse myself because, well, let's just say of all the free jazz records I own, this one is the most free. There might be someone out there who believes this is the greatest recording of all time, and that I just don't understand it.
That could be absolutely true.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
I have to admit, I'm kinda sweet on this one.
Antonio Adolfo's HYBRIDO is Brazilian jazz, and I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of Brazilian jazz. Oh, I adore Getz/Giberto as much as the next audiophile, but I honestly think I burnt out on this genre back in the late '80s or early '90s when it was everywhere and people were dancing to its sexy and fluid rhythms. It's a satisfying sound, energetic and lush, but there was just a point where I said enough, I think I've heard all the Brazilian jazz I want to hear.
HYBRIDO is different. Its Brazilian-ness sneaks up on you behind a dazzling wall of beauty. Pianist and composer Antonio Adolfo has been playing this kind of music for most of his life, and I believe his success and his accessibility is due to his understanding of the parallels between jazz and Brazilian tradition. He treats them differently and doesn't try to melt them into a whole--you can see the dual sensibilities weaving in and out of each other. Does that sound sexy? It is.
Subtitled From Rio to Wayne Shorter, HYBRIDO has a simple concept--Adolfo has taken eight Shorter tracks such as "Deluge," "Prince of Darkness" and "Ana Maria" and merged them with his own musical style. He points to Shorter's concise lyricism along with his "rich harmonies and melodies" as an ideal blend, and the result is incredibly balanced and pleasing. It's not easy listening--there are plenty of musical challenges here--but you will be soothed and caressed along the way. In fact, I'll come right out and say you'll be seduced.
Adolfo has also enlisted an all-star band to coax a genuine sensuality from these songs including guest vocalist Ze Renato, guitarist Lula Galvao. His core band consisting of sax/flute player Marcelo Martins, drummer Rafael Barata and bassist Jorge Helderis is exceptional and well-oiled. But the richest flavors are supplied by Adolfo himself--he isn't flashy but he is persistent and the momentum of his subtle phrasing provides deeper textures that prevent HYBRIDO from being too soft and pliant and moody.
This record, of course, sounds fantastic. The tone is warm and vibrant, which is perhaps why I keep suggesting that it's such a sexy collection of songs. It's full of tone and yet pleasingly dynamic. Recommended.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
My latest music review for Positive Feedback is now live. This one is from one of my favorites, Robt Sarazin Blake, and I believe he just laid down a masterpiece titled Recitative. You can read it here.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
It's probably not fair to say that Carry Illinois is Lizzy Lehman, 'cuz there is a whole big band standing behind her and playing solid mid-tempo rock. But she's the one out front, exposing her vulnerabilities, her fears and her longing. Behind the scenes, however, it's this Austin-based quintet as a whole that's been through the so-called ring of fire, and this new six-song EP is all about putting things back together after they've fallen apart.
I reviewed Carry Illinois' album Alabaster back in 2015 and described it as "empty and reverberent and reminds you of a late night performance that started long after midnight because the opening acts couldn't get their shit together." (I meant empty as a compliment, as in a sparse sound in a big space.) Since then the band has been struggling to deal with the suicide of original bassist John Winsor. As Lehman has said, "Why is it so hard to restart? Why is it so hard to put the parts back together?"
It's good news that Carry Illinois has put the parts back together with new bassist Andrew Pressman, along with drummer Rudy Villareal, guitarist Darwin Smith and keyboardist Derek Morris. I liked Alabaster but found it to be composed of familiar pieces. Garage Sale is more of an honest expression of where the band and its music fits into the world--sad and wounded but trying to move to the next phase. It's disheartening when a band can't quite manage this--think of Lush--but Lizzie's strength and persistence is present in every word she sings. That adds another layer of depth to the music which is mighty compelling.
If this sounds like a bit of a downer, it isn't. If you listen to Garage Sale without knowing the backstory, you'll find these six songs to be positive and encouraging and even hopeful. If you know what the band's been through in the last couple of years, however, the sadness is right there staring back at you. In the closer, "Goodnight," you can't help but feel all of the pain and the wondering and the confusion. Lehman sings that she wants to be able to "look at all my friends, my dearest family, wishing happiness to call and take the place of agony."
As an anthem, it's a bit heavy. But as a closing thought, a conclusion, it's the very definition of hope.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
I feel like it's been forever since I've blogged. I've just returned from the 2017 AXPONA Show in Chicago and trade shows traditionally take me out of the groove for at least a couple of weeks. Sometimes, and this is something I admit reluctantly, I even get tired of listening music and I need at least a few days of silence so that I can re-calibrate my ears.
This live solo piano CD from Bill O'Connell, Monk's Cha Cha, is therefore a soft landing, an easy way to assess the growing pile of review CDs and LPs without stressing out over deadlines and such. That's because O'Connell's playing can be lush and fluid like Bill Evans' playing. It just sort of flows over you and carries you along and fills your head full of intriguing yet sanguine ideas while it does so.
I'm not that familiar with Bill O'Connell's work--perhaps that's because this is his first solo piano recording as well as his first live recording. That's surprising since he's been playing professionally since 1977, starting off with the legendary Mongo Santamaria. He's played with Sonny Rollins, Gato Barbieri and Jerry Gonzalez as well. He's the real thing when it comes to jazz piano, and it seems to be a bit of a mystery in the industry as to why his recorded output is so limited. This recording, live from the Carnegie-Farian Room in Nyack, mixes standards with originals and cements his reputation among his fellow musicians as not only a strong composer but a pianist who masters the worlds of Latin jazz and bebop with equal grace and authority.
These Latin influences are one of the things that separates O'Connell's playing from Evans, however. Those jagged and dynamic rhythms are very much established in the music, even without percussion. But O'Connell possesses the same ability as Evans to produce a lot of notes in seamless and sinewy tangents. You'll definitely hear those wondrous cadences in tunes such as Santamaria's "Afro Blue" and Jobim's "Dindi."
I'm too exhausted right now to come up with vivid new ways to describe a solo piano recording. The parallels between O'Connell and Evans may be more elusive to you than me at this point. But what a recording like this does for my sanity cannot be underestimated--beautiful playing that gently prowls between genres without gaudy alerts announcing its intentions. It is a perfect tonic for right now.
Thursday, April 13, 2017
Yesterday I talked about Down Under Audio 2 at the AXPONA hi-fi show which is happening next week. Colleen Cardas Imports is also supporting a second room from J&B Distribution, our Unison Research dealer in New Jersey. J&B will be exhibiting in room 424. (Down Under Audio will be one floor us, in room 532.)
J&B will be showing off the brand new Unison Research Unico CD Uno, which retails for $2800. This is the middle of Unison Research's CD player, sitting right between the classic CD Primo ($2250) and the flagship Unico CD Due ($4500). This sophisticated DAC/transport has plenty of connectivity options, and can upsample all hi-rez files and stream DSD64 and DSD128 (with an upcoming module for DSD256). I have been breaking in this Unico CD Uno, the first one in the US, and I can say it offers a huge chunk of the CD Due performance for a significantly lower price.
J&B will also use the Unison Research SH headphone amplifier in their room as well. This is what I use at home.
Please stop by either room and say hello. I will probably be bouncing between both rooms and occasionally sneaking outside to smoke cigars and conduct business like a boss. But if you see me, feel free to introduce yourself.
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
I feel like I haven't done a trade show in a long time. Perhaps that's because we skipped CES this January, the first time I haven't been in many years. So that makes the last trade show where I exhibited was TAVES in Toronto last October, and since I was helping out the Canadian distributor of Unison Research and Opera, it wasn't the usual ordeal. Of course the last show I really did was the first Down Under Audio at the Newport Show last June, almost a year ago.
And now, in a few days, I'm leaving for Down Under Audio 2 at AXPONA in Chicago!
This time Colleen Cardas Imports is just doing one room for Down Under Audio--room 532. Here we will be featuring both Axisvoicebox and REDGUM Audio from Australia. We are bringing the brand new Axisvoicebox EBS, which stands for Extended Bass System. The EBS system features a pair of large enclosures that contain active woofers. These are designed to be used with the Axisvoicebox S monitors as a full-range system. The massive and powerful EBS costs $4500/pair. With the $2500 Voicebox S, this is an accurate yet authoritative loudspeaker system.
We will also be debuting the new Axisvoicebox FLS ($4000/pair) loudspeakers, which are basically the award-winning Axisvoicebox S in a floor-standing enclosure and mated to an active subwoofer.
REDGUM Audio is bringing products as well--particularly their new Black DAC 8, which has a few very innovative features at a reasonable price, and the entire Black Series of integrated amplifiers. Even the cabling is all REDGUM Audio.
We'll also have Unison Research in a different room--we'll be debuting a brand new Unison Research product there. I'll update you here tomorrow.
In the meantime, AXPONA 2017 will be at the Westin O'Hare outside of Chicago from April 2- to April 23. Please stop by and say hello!
Sunday, April 9, 2017
My review of Michael Rabinowitz' Uncharted Waters is now up at Positive Feedback Online. If you've never heard a jazz quartet led by a bassoon, it's quite good. You can read it here.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
This one slipped through the cracks a couple of weeks ago, but here's the latest from The Smoking Jacket cigar column for Part-Time Audiophile...this one is all about BIG stogies! You can read it here.
Thursday, April 6, 2017
Do you like Adele? A lot of people do, obviously. I think she's just okay. The first time I heard "Rolling in the Deep" on the radio, I thought hey, that's interesting. Then I listened to the rest of the album and said no, not my thing. I even remembered that I had seen her on SNL back when her first album came out and she was barely out of her teens and I thought hey, that wasn't bad. But it wasn't quite enough for me. When it comes right down to it, I'll never be a Top 40 kind of guy. I don't hate modern pop as much as I did when I was an angry youngster, campaigning for the death of disco, but bouncy beats and catchy songs tend to float away in the ether as far as I'm concerned. They might as well be pink noise.
I thought about Adele when I listened to this new five song EP from Stereo RV, Human. Just a few seconds into the first song, the title track, I thought hey, this is a lot like Adele. Singer and keyboardist Myra Gleason has that same assertive manner as Miss Adkins--her mere voice seems to imply that she's been knocked down, but she'll get up again. Her husband Gabe supplies the rest of the musical side, and together their melodies are memorable without being cloying. On the surface, this is the type of music that you might hear on the radio any day of the week. You might say hey, and you might not.
But here's another layer of the onion--Myra and Gabe are from Portland, Oregon, my old stomping grounds. And like Adele, who is very British and lets those sensibilities seep into her music, the Gleasons aren't afraid to add a layer of Rose City gloom that makes you realize that these five songs aren't about the usual song things. In the aforementioned title track, for instance, Myra sings that she's just trying to be a human, and all the responsibility that entails. In fact, that's one of the main themes of the entire album--most of us just blend into the crowd, and it takes everything we have just to get noticed for something. In "The One," Myra delivers a multitude of life analogies--forests, mountains, oceans, hurricanes--to bring across the point that "we made it out okay."
In the end, that's what separates Human from the vast majority of Top 40 pop out there--it's about something other than love, sex and making it big. It's about survival, and we're not talking about the last romantic relationship that went sour. More than anything, Stereo RV is singing about what it takes to come out on the other side okay, and what that feel likes.
Wednesday, April 5, 2017
"I noticed you were playing some piano music before. It was...very different."
"Uh, er, yeah...that was something I have in for review..."
"No, no. I liked it. Could you play it again?"
Have you ever watched a horror film or a thriller where the shocks and surprises are few and far between, which increases their impact? Now imagine that concept applied to music, where you listen to a substantial chunk of music, ten minutes or twenty minutes or more, and then the entire piece gets knocked over on its side and takes your breath away. That's what happens in the latest release from 2L Recordings, Vers la Lumiere. This album takes solo piano works from Antonio Bilbalo, Franz Liszt and Olivier Messaien--all performed by Jens Harald Bratlie--and juxtaposes them with brief interludes of electroacoustic tones and sounds from his son David Bratlie.
Okay, maybe I should have said "spoiler alert." If you go into this album blind as I did, it's quite a rush to hit that first wave of electronic tones. It sounds, and feels, like the floor disappears beneath you. Once you regain your footing, you wait for the next wave. It comes later than you think, adding to the suspense.
Lest you think this is some parlor trick, it's not. The idea of the juxtaposition of the piano and the "electroacoustic transitions" supports the theme suggested by the title--"darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that." (That's a quote, of course, from Martin Luther King, Jr.) Bratlie & Son use that idea as a springboard into the nature of artistic expression, and how a musician needs to plunge into contemporary sound in order to re-evaluate history.
What makes this such an effective exercise (which inspired the conversation above, with a friend) is the focus and depth of the piano pieces and how those qualities demand such rigid and consuming dedication from the pianist. The program choices are varied to add yet another layer. Bilbalo's "La Notte" chronicles a night of loneliness and despair and therefore prompts you into darkness. Lizst's "Vallee d'Olbermann" comes straight from the heart of the Romantic Era and sweeps you back into the light, where you can experience the healing power of sheer beauty. The two Messiaen pieces, both from "Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jesus," are more manic and tinged with madness; in a way they encapsulate the flood of opposing emotions that come before while clawing at the walls of the frontier.
Punctuating each piece, of course, are those astonishing electronic sounds that act as the hand that shakes your shoulder and wakes you up. Allow yourself to absorb them, to be surprised by their appearance, and perhaps you'll experience those same epiphanies about dream states you might have felt the first time your watched the David Lynch film Mulholland Drive. There's a sublime, private cluster of feelings that gets disturbed when you ponder the nature of sleep, which of course is another realm where the differences between light and darkness get resolved.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
I've really wanted to go to Montreal for several years now, mostly because it seems both exotic and relatively accessible. Now that I live close to the Canadian border and can drive to The City of the Hundred Steeples in about five hours, the call is plaintive and clear. The Montreal Audio Fest, formerly known as Salon Son et Image, was just a week or so ago and I was utterly unprepared to go--one of the good things about moving to Central New York was living close enough to make the Montreal hi-fi show a regular thing. It came and went. I felt like there was no good reason for that to happen.
Baron Tymas' new album, Montreal, pours salt on that wound by making me feel that I'm really missing out on a spectacular place. Tymas, who hails from North Carolina, is a jazz guitarist who possesses an easy demeanor and a clear tone. (He's also an associate professor of music at North Carolina Central University.) He spent 2015 as a Fullbright Fellow at Concordia University in Montreal, and this album is inspired by his time there, working with a variety of Montreal jazz musicians such as pianist Joshua Rager, bassist Sage Reynolds and drummer Jim Doxas. These eight original compositions are designed to evoke images of Tymas' travels on the metro and the bus lines, of the diverse cuisine, of the warm fall weather and of the relationships he built. The result is solid, and it's easy to translate these vivacious sounds into a soundtrack for a vibrant city.
Each of these tunes go down easy without feeling like easy listening, and you can hear Tymas' inspirations with a certain amount of deliberation. I do have to make one small confession--I do not dig Jeri Brown's vocal improvisations on "And Oui" in the least. I don't want to pick on her because she has a lovely, rich voice that's filled with an element of sorrow and deep reflection. But it's almost alarming the way she slides into the song like a river of molasses, slowing everything down. I've heard this type of scatting a few times in recent months and I don't know if it's the new things or a reclamation of some old style, but it's making me hit the NEXT button on the CD player.
Fortunately that act brings on one of the most liveliest and distinctive jazz tunes I've heard in a long time, "Wishbone." Driven by Tymas' mean and lean guitar work, this tune has a steady drive that pushes it to the brink of jazz-rock--imagine Bill Frisell making an appearance on an old Steely Dan record. It's dry and it moves like one of Tymas' buses. It's also fitting that the final tune is titled "Take the 24," which was the actual number of the bus that he used to go sightseeing.
Once again, Montreal is a contemporary jazz album from a small label and it sounds absolutely fantastic, as realistic as any hi-rez audiophile standard. After saying this over and over, I'm wondering if there's some sort of renaissance going on in contemporary jazz. I probably wouldn't be so astounded by this is it was one particular label or studio, like 2L Recordings of Norway putting out such consistently excellent work. All I can say is whoever is sending me all these jazz CDs has extraordinarily high standards when it comes to recordings.
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Again it's time to address the growing pile of CDs I need to review, I know, life is hard. But here's the thing--most of these CDs coming in are contemporary jazz, so I have to be diligent when it comes to mixing things up. I have eclectic tastes in music, obviously, and much of my mental health depends upon listening to a constant variety of sounds instead of digging too deeply into one specific genre or another.
That's why Date Night with Brian seems so refreshing to me right now. It's a five-song EP from a self-described punk rock group from Seattle. I must digress first and admit that punk meant something very different in 1981. I learned in my younger days that not everything called "punk" is punk, and those within the scene have very narrow definitions. I've heard two old-school punks argue that a certain piece of music wasn't punk because of the drummer's time signatures and the style of his fills. Green Day is "punk lite." Pixies are "post punk." Sonic Youth is "art rock." You're either hardcore or you're not. There's no wiggle room.
I bring this up because Date Night with Brian is not quite punk. It's sort of Daydream Nation with the band members being in much better moods. It does have one strong and persistent tie to the early punk years, and it's the de-emphasis of the bass guitar. I can remember when someone first described punk rock to me back in high school, and he said "Imagine three guitars, no bass, and a crazy fast drummer." He was talking about the Ramones, so that doesn't quite fit his description, but Dee Dee wasn't that prominent in the early mixes, either.
Date Night with Brian eschews the bass guitar completely with just two guitars and drums. (Band members Ean, Rena and Brian come from such Seattle mainstays as the Cripples, Sicko and Voodoo Hot Dog.) This isn't the two-guitar approach of The Presidents of the United States of America where one guy goes low and the other guy goes high. But neither is it The White Stripes featuring a special guest appearance from Frank Black on rhythm Telly. What DNWB lacks in lower registers, they make up in the guitar textures and the way the two guitars weave in and out, which explains why my brain keeps tugging on my sleeve and saying "that part right there, that was Daydream Nation-ish."
I don't need to drone on and on about a straightforward sort of punk-ish 5-song EP--if this sounds like it could be your cup of tea, it probably is. And I do get excited when a new band emerges out of the ooze to bring a fresh new approach to punk whether it was Rancid or the White Stripes or yes, Green Day. Any band that can effortlessly evoke Daydream Nation has a lot going for it as well.
It should also be noted that when the album is released on April 17, it will be available on special edition 10" green vinyl. That's the way I'd go.
Friday, March 31, 2017
My latest Vinyl Anachronist column is now up at Perfect Sound Forever. This one is about re-tipping cartridges and whether or not you should bother with replacement styli. You can read it here. Enjoy!
Saturday, March 25, 2017
I honestly think I should know more about Dave Soldier than I do. He's a very interesting person, and he's involved in plenty of mystical and cerebral projects that connect the aesthetic dots between music, art and history. (His real name isn't even Dave Soldier.) When I reviewed the latest Sonus Inenarrabilis' CD a few months ago, I was just a bit confused by the way this album was packaged especially in terms of who did what, and whose music they were playing. That's Dave Soldier's fault, I think. Shortly afterward, I found a half dozen of my friends in the audio industry discussing Soldier on Facebook in a way that led me to believe they knew him and he was a good buddy of theirs.
Now I have this new Dave Soldier project on deck, The Eighth Hour of Amduat, and the ambiguity continues. A perfunctory listen reveals very little since it's a somewhat eclectic and disjointed collection of noises and sounds, punctuated by passages of truly beautiful music, all recorded in a careful, loving manner. Looking at the busy cover of the CD undoes some of the mystery--Marshall Allen plays Sun Ra, Sahoko Sato Timpone plays The Mistress of the Boat and there's credit for an orchestra and choir. But then, at the bottom, it says "Rita Lucarelli, Egyptologist."
Take my advice and dig around a little bit before throwing this into your CD transport and hitting the play button. In a nutshell, this is what Dave Soldier has done: he's taken the oldest known musical score, "The Eighth Hour of the Book of the Amduat" from 1425 B.C., and he's turned it into an opera that fuses jazz, classical and electronic music. As a whole, this opera jumps around from lush orchestral scores to free jazz freakouts to extended periods of random sound effects and noise and overall it can be a bit frustrating. It's when you focus on the individual components of the opera that you find the hidden jewels. For instance, Marshall Allen's contributions on saxophone and something called an EVI (electronic valve instrument) are intriguing especially when you consider that he's now 93 years old. The choir is fascinatingly unhinged because it's mostly improvisation, a novel concept.
After listening to this album a handful of times, I can be honest and say that reviewing it is quite tough because there are so many layers here and I might not peel them off for a number of years. This is difficult music, but there are so many fascinating touches that I think there's more to discover.
One thing, however--the sound quality is excellent.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Right off the bat, there are a few interesting things about Luke Sellick. First, and this is plastered all over the place, he's only 26 years old. Second, he's from Winnipeg. Third, he plays double bass and yet is the leader of this particular ensemble, which has complimentary echoes of Mingus. Fourth, he was mentored by the great Ron Carter. Finally, he's a hell of a composer. On Alchemist, from the Cellar Live label, Luke presents nine original songs that have that old soul feeling in spades, something from someone someone who's spent a lifetime perfecting a craft.
That might sound a tad effusive, but I've been listening to Alchemist casually for the last few weeks and it never occurred to me that Sellick played the bass. He's so generous with his bandmates--Jimmy Greene on tenor sax, Jordan Pettay on alto sax, Benny Benack III and Mat Jodrell on trumpet, Adam Birnbaum on piano, Kush Abadey and Jimmy MacBride on drums--that any one of them could stand up and declare "I'm in charge" and possibly no one would say a word. Well, maybe Sellick would say something.
This unity, however, comes from a group of musicians who are very familiar with each other. Sellick has played bass on Jimmy Greene's albums, so the two share a special bond on most of these songs. (Sellick has also recorded with Russell Malone, Johnny O'Neal and a few others.) His style is not flashy, and these nine tracks are not punctuated with constant double bass solos. Instead, Sellick's foundation is as smooth and as fluent as can be, a flowing river of low notes. One could argue that he's the backbone because his presence is so constant, but the real star of Alchemist is the compositions themselves. They are uniformly carefree and winsome. I hate to keep uttering this same cliche over and over, but in this instance it is unusually fitting--these sound like lost classics. So many of the contemporary jazz I've been listening to combines originals and classics in a way that suggest the building of endless bridges, but in this case we have nine strong jazz compositions that are heavy on structure and stingy with needless tangents. There's tremendous focus here.
The liner notes suggest something unusual, that most of these compositions are reflections of Sellick's Christian faith, "which was instilled in him during his Canadian upbringing." I wouldn't have guessed this in a million years, but I'm not the person to seriously think about the connection--especially when there are no vocals. But those ideas may connect to the central tones that attract Sellick, that this is content jazz, relatively free from conflict. As soulful as this album is, it is certainly not the blues. But it is a smart jazz album, and a well-recorded one, so it's well worth your time.
Monday, March 20, 2017
My latest review for Positive Feedback Online is now up, and you can read it here. This one is of an amazing new jazz CD from Doug Munro and La Pompe Attack's The Harry Warren Songbook, where classic Warren standards are played in the "hot Paris" style of jazz a la Django Reinhardt. Enjoy!
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
I'm at the tail end of my first Syracuse winter, and I seem to have survived. According to the locals, it's been a pretty average season--well over 100 inches of snowfall so far, but certainly not all clumped together at once. Other than slipping on the ice four times in one week right before the holidays, I appear to be strong enough to handle northern life.
Today, however, we are expecting a big snowstorm. It's the middle of March, and we're still not out of the woods yet. The first piece of music I'm playing today is Jan Gunnar Hoff's Stories, another exquisite recording from 2L Recordings in Norway. I've played this disc several times over the last few weeks--it's the perfect soundtrack for watching the snowfall through a big window. These fifteen pieces for solo piano are all songs in the strictest sense of the word--they range from two to five minutes long, and they have specific song structures. Most importantly, they all tell a story.
Jan Gunnar Hoff is a familiar face to anyone who has been purchasing Blu-ray discs, CD/SACD hybrids and even LPs from 2L. I've already reviewed several of his releases right here on this blog: Living was reviewed in 2013, and the Hoff Ensemble's Quiet Winter Night is one of my favorite LPs to demo at a trade show. As a solo pianist, Hoff is one of those inventive performers who can sit in front of a keyboard and improvise endlessly. His style is fluid and lyrical, but at the same time he can connect to a wide range of emotions--it certainly isn't just pretty piano music he's playing. There's bite and there's thunder.
In Stories, however, Hoff does an amazing thing. Those beautiful improvisations are blended with familiar songs, familiar passages, even fleeting moments. Aside from a glorious and thoughtful cover of "God Only Knows," a rearrangement of the traditional Norwegian folk song "Varmlandsvisan" and Gerhard Winkler's "Answer Me," these are all original compositions from Hoff, so those gentle moments of recognition are wonderfully ethereal. At various points through Stories I'm reminded of everything from Thomas Dolby to Alan Silvestri's original score from Cast Away. These are incidental, however--the moment I lock in with a flash of realization, Hoff has moved onto something else.
This wavering between pure improvisation and surreptitious homage make Stories one of the most rewarding solo piano works I've heard in some time. By now you know that 2L Recordings are perhaps the most lifelike and natural you can buy in 2017, so I don't need to tell you how warm and spacious the Sofienberg Church sounds, or how producer Morten Lindberg has a better handle on how to bring out the wood and the wire of a piano out into the open better than anyone else.
Just grab this recording and wait for a snowy day, like today, and stare out the window and think about everything that matters to you.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
"The band is reminiscent of the Raincoats, Beat Happening, and perhaps the Minutemen, if the Minutemen were fronted by a couple of women."
That description is enough to get my attention, but the real reason I'm talking about the new Portland band Avalanche Lily is that I've known singer-guitarist Ramune Nagisetty since I reviewed Rocket 3's CD Burn back in 2014. (We've been friends on Facebook, so don't think I drop by her house a couple of times per week for a frosty pint of Pliny the Elder.) I actually loved her old band, which reminded me of such fun '90s bands as Letters to Cleo, Veruca Salt, Elastica and especially Clouds. Plus, I always pay attention to her on my newsfeed because Ramune Nagisetty is such a cool name.
Ramune sent me a PM a couple of weeks ago asking me to check out her new band, Avalanche Lily. She didn't want a review or anything--just an honest evaluation. Their new EP, Dream Horizon, is coming out next week so she sent me out a quartet of tracks to download. Compared to Rocket 3, Avalanche Lily sounds much cleaner, purer and sunnier. I'm not hearing Minutemen's jam econo, but I do hear Mazzy Star, kind of dreamy and sexy albeit with more clarity and a penchant for quiet, brief jams. I'm drawn to drummer Andrew Anymouse's persistent brushwork, which is steady and hypnotic, along with the sound of Ramune's clean, undistorted guitar sound. Filling out this trio is Cyndy Chan, who plays bass and sings beautifully measured harmonies with Ramune. It's even more fun to learn about their day jobs--Ramune is an engineer in high-tech, Andrew is a cyber-security specialist and Cyndy raises chickens on her farm and works in a factory.
What Avalanche Lily does, thankfully, is transport me back to that same period of the early 1990s where so many pop genres blended together which resulted in a general broadening of young minds. Best of all, this stripped-down trio is bright and whimsical and easy on the mind. You can get more info on ordering at the Avalanche Lily website.
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Last month I told you about meeting local singer-songwriter Stephen Douglas Wolfe, and how he delivered three 7" singles and a CD (an EP containing the contents of those singles) in order to thanks for a review I did last summer.
I'm not sure how much I can add to those blog entries. I do have a different perspective on the all of the tracks, thanks to the CD, and what it adds up to is a terrific side one on an LP. The 7" singles are gorgeous in packaging, sound quality and musical content, but listening to small chunks of music and then flipping the records over ever few minutes...wait, where did the Vinyl Anachronist go? This guy is complaining about flipping over vinyl!
Naw, it's not like that. I'm just saying that listening to all of the single tracks in a row impressed me because I saw the flow between the songs better, and I feel confident that Stephen Douglas Wolfe is more than just a promising Syracuse performer. He's good enough to make it big, make it on his own, go national, go global, whatever cliche you want to add. I hope he does. I hope he adds a side two sometime soon.
If you're interested in ordering these recordings, you can visit his website for more info. The total cost of the three 7" singles is $30, which might seem like a lot until you remember that the pressings sound fantastic. (It's sold under "SDW Vinyl Single Series.") I'm tempted to stick in a qualifier--really good sound from a small indie label--but I listened to the CD extensively on a big reference system and there's none of those small label budgetary concerns here. This is a first-class collection from a talented singer-songwriter and an all-around decent fellow.