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.