Impression: Nobody perverts accessible themes with manic permutations until the listener must come around to another mode of perception the way Tom Jenkinson does and with his return to record-making as Squarepusher with BUaH after 5 years, he seems to have perfected this approach.
Personnel: Dave Douglas – trumpet; Rafiq Bhatia – guitar; Melvin Gibbs – bass; Sim Cain – drums
Impression: Ferocity and persistence, two key ingredients in the resistance of toxic ideology/politics, are also central to Douglas and company’s Marching Music: Music To Protest By. Get access to this and so much more top-shelf material by subscribing to Greenleaf!
Personnel: original score by Lele Marchitelli; songs by Afterhours feat. Samuel; Agnes Obel; Angelo De Augustine; Be Svendsen & AYAWAKE; Flock of Dimes; Grasscut; Karmic; La rappresentante di lista; Lane 8 & Anderholm; Lean Year; Millie Turner; Paolo Conte; Recondite & Henrik Schwarz; Sofi Tukker feat. Charlie Barker; Sumie
Impression: Paolo Sorrentino’s series The New Pope has achieved must-see-TV status not only because of outstanding direction, inspired casting, and absurdist writing, but the seamless and affecting score of Italian composer Lele Marchitelli and the inclusion of some of the freshest minimal techno and pop bangers this side of an exclusive Roman nightclub keeps this viewer coming back every Monday at 9pm.
When you perform with a group of musicians for three decades certain modes of non-verbal communication tend to develop so that picking things up where you left off is quite simple. Such is the case with saxophonists Andrew D’Angelo and Chris Speed, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, and drummer Jim Black, who as Human Feel released their previous album twelve years ago and sound more vital than ever.
No bass, no problem…this quartet has talent to burn, and burn it does! The amount of ground covered by HF is staggering, from serene, minimal meditations to hyper, maximal catharsis, seemingly exhausting all sensible musical permutations. While Gold is certainly a group effort, with original tunes penned by all members, I can’t help but hear Black as the fire of the recording, perhaps because in nearly all cases, he is perpetually MVP, impressing with both refined simplicity and awe-inspiring complexity. This is no easy task given his esteemed company in HF.
Black has stated, “We believe more than ever that the four of us making music together is a necessity, and we intend to keep doing it wherever and whenever we can”… This is golden news for us all.
Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance Records)
Eric Dolphy is among three soloists – joining Thelonious Monk and Tony Williams in this grand distinction – who galvanized what I continue to love about the greatest improvisatory playing. His level of performance and communication on a musical instrument has yet to be surpassed and his preventable death at the way-too young age of 35 is among the worst tragedies in music history.
When I worked at record stores in my 20s I bought every single disc I could order involving Dolphy and listened to them all… a lot. Although I have yet to grow tired of his musical output, both as a composer/leader and as the single greatest sideman in the business, it was with a childlike sense of jubilation that I audibly shrieked when I heard at the end of last year that unreleased Dolphy was coming to us soon via Resonance Records. Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions is exciting not only because it collects his 1963 studio albums The Conversations and Iron Man, two of the great achievements in music making in the 20th century, but also adds, as I mentioned, UNHEARD DOLPHY MATERIAL…ALMOST 85 MINUTES OF IT!
Look, the world doesn’t need me to say even one more word about his previously issued releases mentioned above – many have written extensively about how singular those records are and why. What I will say is, if you don’t already own The Conversations and Iron Man, just buy this now and your life will almost certainly move in a more positive direction. If you already own those two records, buy this now because the radical 15-minute 12-tone/ Schoenberg-influenced opus “A Personal Statement” (somewhat of a remake of “Jim Crow” from Dolphy’s 1962 LP Other Aspects) alone is worth the price of admission.
Also, the set comes with an almost 100 page book full of interviews, commentary, photographs, recording notes, etc, etc that will make any Dolphy fan drool like a fiend. Just do it.
Layale Chaker & Sarafand – Inner Rhyme (In A Circle Records)
The work of Lebanese violinist and composer Layale Chaker just recently arrived on my radar with the release of her debut recording, Inner Rhyme, and I couldn’t be happier that it did. Merely seeing on paper the lineup of violin, cello (Jake Charkey), bass (Nick Dunston), piano (Phillip Golub), and percussion (Adam Maalouf) and I knew that I was in.
Taking inspiration from a number of diverse musical traditions including Arabic Maqam, Chaker has hit upon a gorgeous blend of sounds both familiar and less familiar to the typical western ear. With a passion for poetry, she translated twelve classical Arabic poetic meters into rhythmical meters in which to write the material included on this record. Discussing her inspiration for IR from an existentialist perspective, Chaker stated, “From the cradle to the grave, in nuptial festivals as in funerals, the very same rhythms and melodies trace and mark every stage of life for Assyrians, Syriacs, Kurds, Arabs and Gypsies. What could possibly transcend geopolitical deals and whirlwinds more than that thought?”
Finding common ground in the face of deeply polarized and deadly conflict is a sensible and natural response and one of which our leaders continue to prove they are incapable. Even so, hopeful young artists such as Chaker will continue to bring art into the world not only for art’s sake, but also to shine a light on our commonalities. Mission accomplished with grace and agility, and on a debut, too!
Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow & Bobby Previte – You Don’t Know The Life (Rarenoise Records)
From the same label and trio that brought us 2014’s The New Standard and 2017’s Loneliness Road with Iggy Pop, comes You Don’t Know the Life, the new collection of originals and improvisations, as well as standards by Bacharach, Bill Evans, and Roswell Rudd performed by veterans Jamie Saft, Steve Swallow, and Bobby Previte. On first glance at the space-age art-deco cover, the listener realizes something wicked this way comes…in the form of Hammond B3 deliciousness and magical Baldwin electric harpsichord vibes.
Surprisingly, Saft, himself a gifted recordist/producer, did not commit this material to tape. Engineered by Christian Castagno at Sear Sound in NYC, YDKTL is not a tentatively documented batch of music: an attractively compressed, bass heavy mix in which even the subtle resonances of the drums envelope you plays perfect foil to this invigorating material. At times the music hints at the cinematic approaches of Francis Lai, pop group Air, ambient 70s Miles, or dreamy Badalamenti / Lynch concoctions, but it’s something other than all of those, though no less curiously moody or undeniable. This record would belong in the “swinging, psyched out jet set jams” section of your favorite record store, if your favorite record store were sufficiently hip.
The Rarenoise / Jamie Saft partnership continues to pay dividends to listeners with yet another terrific set of tunes, and if last year is any indication, might yield one or two more releases this year.
Greg Ward – Stomping Off From Greenwood (Greenleaf Music)
Everyone already knows that Greg Ward is one of the premier musicians working in 2019 and his 2016 record Touch My Beloved’s Thought is a stone cold masterpiece. Well, he and his group of Chicago’s finest, Rogue Parade, are back at it and in a big way.
For Stomping Off From Greenwood, Ward joins the dual guitar frontline of Matt Gold and Dave Miller, supported by the fantastic young rhythm section of Matt Ulery and Quin Kirchner on bass and drums, respectively. It’s interesting and impressive to hear his writing for guitars rather than the horns of his previous outing, showcasing not only his already-known impeccable skills as an arranger, but also his versatility and creative drive. This impulse groups him with the some of the most compelling composers / performers of our time who also have no use for genre. SOFG contains super-catchy tunes, conveys a wide breadth of moods, and it is just a total blast to listen to. Did I mention that Rogue Parade can flat out play? They can and do throughout the record.
I don’t see any way for a guy as talented as Ward to keep making music and not be looked back at as one of the great musical minds of the early 21st century. He already is by many, including yours truly.
Although Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Nordström has gathered a “double quartet” in the Coleman sense of instrumentation (two times sax, trumpet/trombone, bass, and drums, each panned in the stereo field, joining their respective quartet), it would be unwise to expect Ornette-style harmolodics and free improvisation from this group on Needs. In fact, the band presents more as a densely charted and tightly syncopated, well-oiled octet / big band machine than a “double quartet”…but this ain’t your old man’s big band either. Nordström has called Needs “progressive jazz with unquestionable influence of contemporary classical and rock music”, and while that might suffice for a press kit, the music contains too many dimensions to be adequately summarized in a couple handfuls of words.
The fact that this album was recorded in one day reveals the high degree of musicianship with which we are dealing. As far as Needs personnel goes, Nordström and Fredrik Ljungkvist handle the reeds, Mats Äleklint and Niklas Barnö play trombone and trumpet respectively, Filip Augustson and Torbjörn Zetterberg man double basses, and Christopher Cantillo and Fredrik Rundqvist do the drumming. The two rhythm sections in particular are notable for their anchor-like steadiness, freeing the horns to do what they do best within the parameters set by Nordström’s terrific charts and conduction cues.
Needs is an especially gratifying near-48 minute listening experience, one that could only really be improved upon by witnessing it live. So, what say you Fredrik…any stateside dates soon?
Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – The Tribe & Black Axis (Southern Lord)
It was 1993, and there I was, 22 years young and bright-eyed, sprinting across Houston Street after wrapping up my gig at the Knitting Factory with my band Rodan, b-lining towards CBGBs on Bowery, my first time in said establishment and only my second time in the city that never sleeps. All fingers were crossed that I hadn’t missed any of the set of a band I had just been hipped to very recently, Caspar Brötzmann Massaker. I showed my CMJ pass to the door guy and recklessly power-walked through the crowd towards a most menacing sound coming from deep within the room. Then, bam, I ran headfirst into Swans force of nature Michael Gira, who did not flinch or yield, but exited the room. The brief encounter was sobering, no doubt, but significantly less so than what I was about to witness on stage. Massaker were touring on Koskofen, an album I was obsessed with at the time, and one that can only be described as insistent, pummeling brilliance. Suffice it to say that I was completely unprepared for how excellent and world-altering guitarist Brötzmann and his trio with mainstay bassist Eduardo Delgado-Lopez and drummer Danny Arnold Lommen were that night. I tracked down everything I could find by the group, including their first two German import-only records The Tribe and Black Axis.
Forward to 2019 and venerable imprint Southern Lord have re-mastered and reissued Brötzmann’s first two releases so that the uninitiated might experience the origins of one of the most vital groups of the past 30 years. This is absolutely indispensable listening for anyone who pursues music that moves beyond the safety of genre and/or casual listening. Unfair as it might be, to get you in the ballpark, imagine if Hendrix had been angrier and hadn’t been raised on the blues and you’re there. Some of the band’s strongest material is included on these two albums: “The Tribe”, “Tempelhof”, “Massaker”, “Hunter Song”, and “Böhmen”… Coincidentally, this is the track list of 1994’s Home, a greatest hits of sorts, re-recorded with supernatural and ex-Gore skin-mauler Lommen who supplanted Massaker’s two previous drummers Jon and Frank Neumeier.
The release of The Tribe and Black Axis marks phase one of Southern Lord’s Massaker re-issue project, to be concluded at a later date in 2019 with the release of all five Massaker’s albums individually, as well as in a collectable box set with extensive liner notes, etc. Additionally, according to the label, “Caspar is also rumored to be working on brand new material”, so there’s that too. This right here is the good stuff!
Mick Rossi’s Anti-Matter – Live at Barbes (Chant Records)
Perhaps best known for his work with Philip Glass or for backing mega-star Paul Simon, Mick Rossi is a remarkably well-rounded keyboardist / musician by any metric. With his own group Anti-Matter, Rossi cuts loose and takes a hard left turn, producing some of the most exceedingly grooving and expertly executed roof-raising music north of New Orleans.
Alongside Billy Drewes (reeds) Ron Horton (trumpet) Alan Ferber (trombone) Michael Sarin (drums), Michael Bates (bass), Rossi has hit upon the perfect combination of accessible and challenging, nearly all the while remaining infinitely danceable. Not unlike Steven Bernstein’s unstoppable Millennial Territory Orchestra, Anti-Matter get the party started, sustain the crowd’s attention with a ever-evolving combinations of pyrotechnics and impeccable feel, and don’t let up until the job is complete, not an easy feat when one realized that they never succumb to banal jam-band tactics. Although there is no shortage of startling solos on Live at Barbes, the lasting impression is that these guys play so dang well together as a unit.
I am certain that if I were to host a block party in celebration of a certain individual being removed from a certain high office in our nation’s capital, I could do no better than to hire Anti-Matter as the musical act.
It is no secret that Rudy Royston is one of the most technically accomplished and creative drummers on the scene in 2019, particularly when his resume boasts high-profile spots in the groups of and on recordings by Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and JD Allen. What we are now realizing, however, is that Royston has fully come into his own as a masterful and original composer with the release of his third album, Flatbed Buggy.
Inspired by Royston’s youth in Texas, FB ranges from capricious scrappers like “Bobblehead” to heartfelt ballads like “girl….WOMAN” and everything in between: Texas-sized ground is covered from start to finish, more than enough in deed to please even the most fussy music lover. Surrounding himself with an all-star crew of reedman John Ellis, accordionist Gary Versace, cellist Hank Roberts, and Joe Martin on bass, Royston makes daring and downright fun compositional choices throughout, not the least of which is the material’s inspired instrumentation.
If you’re like me and find yourself missing the childlike sense of wonder afforded by late 80s/early 90s downtown music scene of Bill Frisell’s Have a Little Faith or Lounge Lizard’s Voice of Chunk, FB might be for you.
Christopher Trapani – Waterlines (New Focus Recordings)
Waterlines is Christopher Trapani’s premier portrait release, consisting of five pieces composed between 2005 and 2013. Master performers abound, JACK Quartet, vocalist Lucy Dhegrae, pianist Marilyn Nonken, and Longleash are featured, among others.
Trapani draws from a respectable array of influences from folk forms and Bob Dylan to spectral composition and microtonal approaches. He composes for combinations of traditional acoustic and electronic instruments, voice, and folk instruments and idiosyncratic string instruments. To be honest, this all reads as “sounds that could be particularly offensive to me”, and as such, I approached Waterlines with great caution. Even so, I came to enjoy Trapani’s aesthetic more and more with each successive listen.
I am particularly taken with the disc’s two lengthiest pieces, “Waterlines” and “Cognitive Consonance”. “Waterlines”, written in response to Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of Trapini’s hometown of New Orleans, features settings of five songs about flooding from the delta blues cannon. One senses reverence for the source material rather than a sort of musical gentrification on these recordings, a pleasant surprise to say the least, due in no small part to the artistry of Dhegrae and Talea Ensemble / James Baker. “Cognitive Consonance”, the jewel in the crown of Waterlines, also references source material, this time traditional Ottoman classical music, as studied by Trapani while in Istanbul. Featured on the piece are seemingly disparate elements Turkish qanûn performed by Didem Başar, icy and spectral electronics, and compelling and tripped-out micro-tonalities courtesy one hexaphonic electric guitar that Trapani himself plays on this recording.
Despite reservations, I’m so glad I gave Waterlines a fair shake, uncovering a massive and unique talent in Trapani, and one I will continue to follow. I anticipate that many of you who choose to dive in will feel similarly.