Friday, June 16, 2017

Thumbscrew, Convallaria, Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara

Was there ever a time when people could know the future with certainty? At best humans projected the present outwards and assumed things would continue to move along the same lines or continue the same (deceptive) stasis. My childhood happened at a time when the US had a somewhat arrogant assurance that we were on the eve of permanently occupying outer space, as '50s people with zits, crew cuts and stupid glasses yet with metallic suits on. Futurism was at a height and the future music we imagined was created in advance by an avant garde, Sun Ra, Stockhausen, Varese, Mingus. We were definitely headed OUT THERE.

If we collectively never quite made it, the space music-of-the-future never quite died out, thankfully. Right now, if you look hard enough, there are numerous recordings of what might have been seen as space-age years ago. Now, it is just the music of the present. The world of jazz is well represented in this sphere. And some of that is very electric, some of it is slightly electric. Thumbscrew is in the latter category. It is a trio of electric guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. The album is called Convallaria (Cuneiform). I believe it is their second as a unit. (See my index search box above for a review of the first album.)

The purely improvisational outlooks of these three musicians are masterful and unparalleled. The compositional weightiness of the program on this album has an equal importance, so that we get a sort of spacey free jazz rockiness that covers some of the unexplored interstices between the genres that is perfectly right for Thumbscrew's musico-collective personality.

Mary is much more than the sum of her occasional effects boxes use. She is alway intelligent and in forward motion, a free guitarist's guitarist. Michael is as ever an extraordinarily creative bassist and plays a huge roll in the success of the trio. Tomas busily and importantly occupies some profound drumming space.

In short this is important music that extends the contemporary rock-free jazz ground outward in greatly rewarding ways.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Ape Shifter

Ape Shifter (Maximum Booking/Brainstorm Records BS0401639) is the brainchild of guitarist Jeff Aug, who wrote the 11 catchy instrumentals on the record. He is joined in a worthy power trio configuration by Kurty Munch on drums and Florian Walter on bass. It looks like this band is based in Germany.

This is hard-rock quasi-metal that gives a nod to the rootedness of the music--Zep and such. And the more contemporary influence of things like Van Halen. Jeff plays a very solid power-chord centered guitar. Kurty and Florian come through with the heft that is needed.

It is a thorough hoot. Well played. If you like a good power trio that can and does crank it, here you go!


Thursday, May 25, 2017

On Fillmore, Happiness of Living

If music doesn't immediately shout at you, "I am this or I am that!" as you first hear it, a number of things might happen. You might reject it out of hand because it is not enough "this" or not enough "that." That may make you angry or confused. "How dare they make me work at what I want to be immediate!" you might think. Or you may try and get used to its refusal to straddle one thing or another. You may come to see what the music does as in time you find it comparable to other mixtures. Or it will not seem comparable but you will find that in the end it pleases you.

That any number of the above reactions may apply to the group On Fillmore and their album Happiness of Living (Northern Spy 083) seems to me inevitable. The back cover informs us that "On Fillmore is Darin Gray and Glenn Kotche." OK? The inside liners, orange with light yellow type, a highly unreadable combo alas, tells us that another seven artists are involved: percussionists, guitarists, electricians, vocalists, drummers, a tape-ologist, and etc.

The music has a kind of polyrhythmic Afro-ethnicity to it, an alt rock lineage maybe, and a compositional-song set of structures that puts the whole thing in motion.

It is not a guitar or bass spotlight. Everything melds together. Sometimes the vocals remind me a little of South African group sings, sometimes not.

And as I listen and relisten I get a feeling that nothing quite compares to this one. But also that it is good, this new something. Hear, hear.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

O.R.K., Soul of an Octopus

Art Rock, for lack of a better term, continues to evolve and develop. As others have remarked elsewhere, the fate of interesting and worthwhile rock seems to be following in the path that jazz has followed. Initially a music of great popular success, the music perhaps no longer dominates the pop charts as it once did, but instead has become more of a specialized art genre in its own right, where the elements that make it what is has been are still present but further evolved at times away from easy popular success and more towards an audience looking for substantial music. Just as jazz has gone from a music central to the popular zeitgeist to an art form independent of mass appeal, so perhaps goes rock. The Beatles' Sargent Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was one of the celebrated forebears of evolved rock, surely. And there were many other albums from that era onwards that made claims for the music as much more than hit tunes per se. And Chuck Berry or Little Richard certainly made of the music an art as much as a success. So now we go forward and the roots have made it all possible.

If that is so the band O.R.K. and their album Soul of an Octopus (Rarenoiserecords RNR075/RNR075LP) are an excellent example of rock in its developing away from a commercial form to an art form.

O.R.K. is a quartet of Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari on keys, electronics and lead vocals, Carmelo Pipitone on acoustic and electric guitars, Colin Edwin on fretted and fretless bass, and Pat Mastelotto on acoustic and electronic drums and percussion.

This is music that centers around song form. The song is the primary vehicle that one encounters, with highly evolved progressive instrumental parts that set everything off and gives each song a highly complex musical substance, a depth.

Each instrumental and vocal part meshes together, vocal and thought out keyboard parts, guitar and bass, drums, all in the evolved sort of progressive sphere that looks back to bands like King Crimson and others as the models that have made it possible to go further afield into sophisticated futurist realms.

This is an album that demands your close attention and rewards with music that increasingly grows on you. It gives us music of a definite character, with an elaborate whole that demands guitar and bass prowess but integrates that into the complex totality.

It is music that gives you much to appreciate. This could be part of what the future of the music holds for us. At any rate it gives us a great deal that is happening right now! Listen.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trespass Trio, The Spirit of Pitesti


Clean Feed records has the uncanny ability to expose us to vital new avant jazz artists, many not as familiar to us as it turns out they should be. Much of the music they release is essential. A case in point is the Trespass Trio and their album The Spirit of Pitesti (Clean Feed 418). The music sneaks up on you rather than takes you captive at the start. It is a band that needs time and your focused listening self together in the same listening space for a while. Then, bit by bit, you know.

Anybody who follows Euro-jazz in some depth will recognize the three names: Per Zanussi on double bass, Raymond Strid on drums, Martin Kuchen on baritone, alto and sopranino. The tunes are by Zanussi, Kuchen or collectively forged. All are important in establishing the trio and its freely introspective ways. Kuchen is a fabulous self on baritone, like nobody, but great as well on alto and sopranino. Zanussi plays a thinking man's bass, in every way a rhythm section dynamo and a front line finesser of great ideas. Strid blazes forth with splatter-smarts and swing.

But this is all about the three together. They really take off. . . as a trio and bring us some startling music.

No doubt to me--they are one of the finest avant jazz trios active in Europe today. You must give this your attention. Well, not MUST, but you SHOULD!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, Glare of the Tiger

This is no place to talk about the crisis in American culture today. But certainly part of it is technological. I was finishing the last sentence on a review of the recording at hand yesterday when in three keystrokes (thanks to a permanent defect in my computer) I deleted the entire article and was unable to recover it. Bad enough that computers and the net helped destroy my entire career and in the end resulted in the loss of my home and most of what I owned. Now I do these blog post for free and my partner thinks I am a fool. That all is OK but I feel like rewriting this entire review over again from scratch like I feel like having open-heart surgery.

Alright then. What we have is a fusion-space band in the grand tradition of Miles classic electric bands and Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi. Now that Neo-Trad is just another style we can go back and reconsider the advances in avant electrics that were revolutionizing the jazz scene and at their best offered excitement, deep groove and freedom all in the same moment.

There have been some nice revisitations and rethinkings in recent years. Wadada's Yo Miles comes to mind among others. Now we have Adam Rudolph's Moving Pictures, a octet that forwards the classic electric spacerockfunk of earlier years and shows us there is still plenty of mileage left on the style, still things to be done to forward it into the future.

There is a sort of three dimensional structure that the band adapts and makes vividly alive. First there is the well-conceived rhythm team. Adam puts together an ensemble of hand drums to make his own "handrumset." His vital playing meshes very nicely with the drumset of Hamid Drake and the percussion of James Hurt. Then electric bassist Damon Banks melodizes the groove by acting as the foundational riffmaster.

All this plays off against electric guitarist-electrician Kenny Wessel's and keyboardist Alexis Marcelo's middle ground of solo and rhythmic essentials.

Finally the horn section of Graham Haynes on cornet, flugelhorn (and electronics) and Ralph M. Jones on reeds float atop with composed lines and solos that stretch the music and give it multiple tensile strengths.

Everyone works together to make this a music of soul, thoughtfulness and space travel. It's one of the most successful and originally launched fusion revamps I've heard, one of the best of the bunch. Take a listen!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Carlos Bica & Azul, More Than This, with Frank Mobus and Jim Black

A bass player led trio? Yes. Carlos Bica steps out with a loose-tight offering that puts forth a trio of distinction. Bica's eloquent acoustic bass pairs with a great feel from guitarist Frank Mobus and the ever-strong drumming of Jim Black. It is, to give it its proper name, Carlos Bica & Azul on an album called More Than This (Clean Feed 398).

What gets this one your ear is a sort of semi-spooky spaciness and electricity of the Mobus guitar (something with roots perhaps of Frisell, Abercrombie, and the like but also a distinct personal edginess), the post Eberhard Weber, rich-toned bass thoughtfulness of Bica and the open inventiveness of Black's drumming.

These are nicely wrought pieces, mostly written by Bica, who takes care that he forwards the sound with melodic leads that have gorgeous harmonic fleshing out by Mobus as called for. Or alternately Mobus handles the melodic head only perhaps to then hand it on to Bica.

It is both edgy and lyrical, sometimes both at once. There are nice solo moments to hear throughout and a kind of open jazz-rock-space zone that attracts magnetically if you listen properly.

This is hugely pleasurable music from Bica and a beautiful trio. I strongly suggest you listen!