Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #226

(NOTE: This will be the last Run-Off Groove that I'll post here at Blogspot. From this point on, please head to for further installments. This blogspot will remain here as an archive.)

Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #226. I am John Book, and when I say read, I mean the column as well as other things in this world. Educate and allow your mind to consume the information. Now that I've confused some of you...

It's been somewhat of a busy month, which is why the amount of columns this month was limited. I was going to wait since I have a lot more music to review but it can't wait. This is the last Run-Off Groove of 2008, with more to come in the new year.

BTW - if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there's a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.

Also, each review features links to the artist's home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn't have most of these titles. If you would like to buy the compact disc, click the icon that looks like this:

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If a particular release does come out on vinyl, I of course will make a vinyl icon.

Now, the column.

Image Hosted by I'll be honest, I haven't been what one would call a Brandy fan. Sure, I liked "I Wanna Be Down" and "Baby" but I haven't followed her career. I do, however, know a little about the path she has been on over the years, and she has reached a point in her life where she is looking for much more as an artist. That more is explored on her new album, Human (Epic), but it begins in an odd way where she talks about the benefits of being human. I question this only because would she be able to talk about her life as a puppy, an elephant, a tomato, or mold on cheese? She's proud to be a human at this stage in her life, but... let's just say the spoken introduction is unnecessary and should have never been placed on this album.

The rest of the album takes off in typical Brandy fashion, and the pop artist that Beyonce isn't, Brandy is. I say that with the utmost respect, Brandy is a pop artist. She hasn't done the R&B thing in awhile but her vocals are perfect for pop, and most of the songs stay away from the usual cliches that are often overwhelming in current pop and much of today's R&B. While I generally hate when an artist tries to conceptualize their life as current events, her recent divorce plays a role on this album in songs that range from heartbroken to heart warming, and feels a bit more authentic than the equivalent in today's marketplace. Brandy is 29, no longer the young teen with the curious eyes who told the world she wanted to be down. She's grown, she's mature, but she's not afraid to reveal a vulnerable side, nor is she tempted to cash in on what's hot to remain hot. Some artists try to show their maturity at 18 or 21, but Brandy is just around the corner from turning 30. Her voice, which has always had a lot of character, is put to good use here, and even in uptempo tracks she shows that she is the one in charge, not a particular producer. Even when she is in charge, as she is in "Torn" and "Shattered Heart", she allows the song to be the reason you want to hear these songs. A song I hope she considers to release as a single is "A Capella (Something's Missing)", where it's just her speaking and singing to herself through the magic of multi-track recording. It's a bold move that one generally doesn't expect from Brandy, but she has taken the opportunity to try something out with great success.

I'm surprised I liked this as much as I did. In a small way, Brandy has found a need to prove herself in an everchanging market when the old becomes outdated and if you're out of sight, you're definitely out of mind. While Miss Norward has never been out of the public eye for too long, it seems if you're not on a reality show or a guest judge on something just as bizarre, you're not relevant. Human is very much a human album, without the extra stimuli that we tend to get lured by. I'm not sure if it's her way of getting back to the core of who she is, or a way to let people know they need to check themselves too, but it holds up as an album that lets fan knows that yes, she is human, her feelings have been hurt, but when life brings you down, you can only look forward for a better tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how Brandy carries herself as an artist in her 30's.

Image Hosted by Danny Green is a San Diego-based pianist whose love of Latin sounds has been an important part of his development. Some may be aware of the Past Due album by the Caballero-Verde Quintet, with Green of course being the "Verde" of the equasion. Now he's about to get more caliente (yes, I'll stop) with the release of his first album under his own name, With You In Mind (Alante Recordings).

The album shows that he will no doubt become one of the more important musicians and names in jazz, perhaps becoming this generation's equivalent of Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Dave Brubeck for this guy not only plays with elegance, but knows how to edge the listener on with his spacing, allowing the arrangements to lure people in to hear not only him, but the musicians (including Dylan Savage on drums, Allan Phillips on percussion, Justin Grinnell on bass, and Tripp Sprague on sax) to get into the precision Green is establishing with each song. There are elements of "Para Chano" that sound like Ram-era Paul McCartney, and just when the song feels like it will end comfortably, Green plays a repetitive chord structure and lets Savage and percussion enhance the flavors of the stew brewing with the kind of drive that will make people dance and perhaps get extra randy. "Doctor Pasta", "Panic Nap", and "Lullaby For A Poet" manages to take things as far as they can without ever going overboard, it's very polished and sustained and Green knows how to create his own style. That might sound silly, but I say this to suggest that sometimes a lot of musicians simply play and emulate. Green and the other musicians are obviously influenced by other great musicians but they're trying to make an effort to make it feel like them, so that you'll know this is the music of Danny Green. It is, and I hope he and the other musicians will continue to record and perform for years to come, as this is a continutation of the greatness that is jazz.

Image Hosted by Sometimes I see another vocal jazz album and I just want to run away, for me it can get real old real fast, but it takes a quality singer for me to take interest.

Dennis Day is someone who is interesting because his voice has a lot of energy and sounds welcoming, like a friend you hadn't seen in decades even though that person may be a perfect stranger. All Things In Time (D-Day Media Group) is by a singer who knows how to carry himself and the music with class, partly because he picks a great selection of songs to interpret, including Ray Charles' "Hallelujah, I Love Her So!", and the Duke Ellington standard "Caravan". Upon listening to this, one tends to think that this guy has been making music for generations, but the biggest shock (for me at least) is the fact that this is his first jazz album. Not only does he pull off the standards with styles, bue he contributes some fantastic new songs that I hope will become a major part of jazz's landscape, including "African Musing", touching on the African diaspora and the link many have between the heart and one's ancestral home. It's a song that would have been perfect for people like Miriam Makeba, Lou Rawls, Al Jarreau and Harry Belafonte to sing, and I could easily see Bobb McFerrin take this to make it his own, if not used tastefully in animated features. The song becomes the album's centerpiece even though it's only the second song in the 12-track program but listen to it and find out why it will become an important piece. When he reaches the last words and creates a sweet falsetto as he sings about the Afircan rainbow, it brings a tear to the eye.

The album then moves back into a jazz motif with tough and rugged tracks such as "Sister Sadie", "You Are Too Beautiful", and "Desifinado" (the Antonio Carlos Jobim song), and it's obvious this guy has a love for jazz and music as a whole. I hope Day will continue to make albums as moving as this, and if he continues to write and release songs as powerful as "African Musing", he will become one of the most powerful songwriters of all time.

Image Hosted by Not sure if she specifically did it this way intentionally, but vocalist Jessie Kilguss begins Nocturnal Drifter (Exotic Bird) with "Gristmill", an album that may or may not have sound kind of connection with her ethnic roots, whatever it may be. But to my ears it sounds like the comforts of home, creating a vocal and musical style that sounds like the starting line. It is welcoming, and you want to enter barefoot, but once she begins "Americana", we realize we are very far from home as it sounds like pop, rock, and that ethereal-ness which sounds as if Kilguss is ready to share with us her travelogue.

If you listen to what passes off as pop these days, it's an embarrassment. Kilguss has the kind of material that used to be a major part of what I heard on the radio growing up, strong and aggressive songs by a woman who is not afraid to share her strength, hopes, dreams, and fears in a way that isn't apologetic. One would find it easy to compare to a list of strong artists, be it Joni Mitchell, Luscious Jackson, Maxwell, or anyone else, but if there's a common glue between all of them, it's a knack to write songs that allow people to get into them lyrically and try to pull out the best and worst of the internal in order for the resulting song to be therapeutic. Kilguss's voice may sound melodic and delicate, but in "A Little Place Behind My Eyes" you have British-pop mixed in with Muscle Shoals horns mixed in with some leftover sounds from Roni Size's database, and one can visualize the colors and the painting that will be created by the song's conclusion.

While I'm a huge fan of soul music and the Northern Soul sound that artists are tapping into, Kilguss resists the temptation to be like everyone else and makes a successful effort in beind herself. That's hard to find in the marketplace, the kind of material where someone is exposed like an open wound or a freshly dug Q-tip and is really to reveal the yellow of it all. It reminds me of those secret albums you wish to share with the world, only to know the reality that most people would not care. This my friends is their loss, because Jessie Kilguss is the kind of artists you'd like to meet on the street and simply say "thank you".

(Nocturnal Drifter will be released on January 6, 2009).

Image Hosted by Bands that make me bleed are the kind of bands I want to listen to for life, and Cactus's are just that band. Let's get these two words out of the way before I get deep into this review: power trio. Okay.

Put together elements of Mudhoney, Helmet, Unsane, Rapeman, The Cure and Grand Funk and you have the unpredictable energetic force that is Cactus's, consisting of Jru Frazier (drummist, vocals), Asher Rogers (guitarra, vox), and Sam Rogers (bassims, vogala), and these guys play with a passion not only to play and play with each other, but to create a euphoria that sounds like that millisecond before a boil bursts. Their lyrics can be very abstract but that's the beauty of it, things don't have to really make that much sense to get into, only to realize that it does make sense:

I refuse to bare the burden of a thousand child molesters
I refuse to fix my speechI will not fear my mouth
I refuse to wash my claws until I feel pure
I refuse to let you vomit into my ear, now I see you serve the serpent

Cactus's play the perfect "fuck you" music for a fuck you world, and they'll hurl into you if you're not careful. Then again, you're not careful and that's why these guys are demons. There's been a void in music in the last few years, and the 6 songs on this EP will hopefully start up a long awaited revolution. These guys are the Satan I need.

Image Hosted by Need the kind of jazz that may bring to mind the best of The Modern Jazz Quartet? May I welcome Roger Kellaway into the mix, and his new double CD Live At The Jazz Standard (Ipo). The double CD features him with Jay Leonhart on bass, Stefon Harris on vibes, Russell Malone on guitar, and Boris Strulev on cello and together they play a number of great standards, including "C Jam Blues", "Cottontail", "I'm Beginning To See The Light", and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", along with a Kellaway original, "All My Life".

Anyone who misses the feel of the MJQ will fall in love (be it with the music or a significant other) with the help of the 13 songs here, especially after hearing the 15 minute take on "Cherry". The thing about Kellaway is that he will play a beautiful melody when the emphasis is on him, or he'll duet in a solo and compliment them or take things on a different route as he makes his way towards the common goal. He's a unique player that I could listen to all day, and I will (heh heh). One of the solos he does in "C Jam Blues", where the band is playing an obvious 4/4 blues while he sounds as if he's behind and ahead of himself at the same time, only for him to get to where he needed to go without effort. It's an amazing moment.

Image Hosted by Carol Fredette has released a number of albums over the years, and she returns with Everything In Time (Soundbrush), continuing with her grace and elegance on a selection of tracks that are quite good/

For this album she teams up with Lenoardo Amuedo (guitar), Adriano Santos (drums), Victor Lewis (drums), Mauro Refosco (percussion) David Finck (bass), Aaron heicke (sax), Bob Malach (sax), Barry Danielian (trumpet), Helio Alves (piano), Andy Ezrin (piano), and Dario Eskenazi (piano), and together they create a jazz album with a primary influence. Imagine a female version of Bob Dorough and you come close to what Fredette sounds like here. The album is beautifully produced, and her performances for the most part are done without flaws or error.

(Everything In Time will be released on February 10, 2009.)

Image Hosted by Now this is vocal jazz I enjoy listening to.

Her CDBaby pages says Leslie Lewis "A jazz singer with an instrument that can deliver whether it's Monk, Ellington, or Jobim. She always makes a statement with her own point of view" and that is clearly obvious on Of Two Minds (Surf Cove Jazz), an album that features the Gerard Hagen Trio along with Larry Koonse, Gary Foster, Ron Stout, and Rob Lockart playing the kind of jazz you hope to be able to hear and understand on your death bed.

Lewis has the kind of spunk and classiness that comes from years of listening and singing this style of music, and if Hoda Kotb was a jazz singer, I'd imagine she would sing like this. Lewis sings with a fervor that makes you itch in all the right places, and is the ointment towards the spots that aren't, listen to "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good" and it becomes perfectly clear that this one knows the blues because she's probably been there, but also knows the goods because she's been good and bad at the same time. "'Round Midnight" and "But Beautiful" deserves massive airplay if the United States cared about their jazz origins, but it doesn't so sadly she may be limited to NPR airplay. It makes me wish more people would be able to hear someone like her, because Leslie Lewis is just a personification of what jazz vocals is about, even when she jiggles her vocal chords in "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good". She sometimes reaches for that hapa raspiness and I wish I could've heard more of that, but perhaps she'll enhance that on the next one. Kathie Lee Gifford, step off. She would be capable of doing some soul music too, maybe next time. Uh, stroke it Lewis, stroke it! Of Two Minds is the album that will make having affairs worth it. Special recognition to Foster's flute work in "Nature Boy", the eden ahbez classic.

Image Hosted by Lets... (AHP).

Let's... what?

That's the point.

Roger Cairns is the kind of jazz singer that has the old style vibe going for him, and you sometimes don't hear that outside of Jerry Lewis telethons. He finishes the Let's... equation by bringing in the listener to listen to this 16-track album of jazz standards, ranging in "Let's Fall In Love", "Daydream", "Stormy Monday", "Things Are Swinging", and "Gravy Waltz". I like the titles but I don't like the singing, and the reinterpretation of the "Peter Gunn Theme", refocused as "Bye, Bye" was a bit too much for me.

I'll stop here and say that his voice is not to my liking, but I found the music (performed by guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Darek Oles, and drummer Roy McCurdy to be incredible. If Cairns was moved to just release this album as an instrumental, I would rave over that.

Image Hosted by Isaac Evans takes it easy on My Journey (self-released) with an album that will please fans of smooth jazz.

I'll be honest, sometimes smooth jazz gets on my nerds because it seems pointless to hear fantastic musicians blow it on wasteful music for coffeehouses only meant to make the unhip feel that they're cool in an atmosphere that has absolutely nothing to do with the music. What makes this album decent for me is that, while it arguably would fit those same smooth jazz stereotypes, the musicianship on it makes me feel as if they're making a legitimate effort to make good music outside of the smooth jazz tag. It reminds me a bit of the laid back funky jazz that was popular in the late 70's/early 80's, and perhaps the reason I like it is because it takes me back to a time when that jazz felt and sounded good, without the filter of knowledge. Think of Pat Metheny with a pinch of George Benson, Seawind, and Marathon-era Carlos Santana and you got something that might make most smooth jazz fans tingly with uncertainty. In other words, this is music that moves you to interact, not sit there and sip a tall Caramel Macciato breve laka doohickey. Evans is truly a gifted musician on the piano and keyboards, with the piano being the main reason you'd want to hear him. But he is also credit as the album's bassist and drum and bass programming, so not only can he do things electronically, he takes his knowledge to the real instruments and makes it happen.

I would not mind hearing him with more established vocalists, just to see where he would be able to take them.

In other words, this isn't your stereotypical smooth jazz album, but more like that laid back quiet storm funk before it got stale and java-fied.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Michael Jefry Stevens is not a madman, but when you look at his extensive track record, I'm not sure what's keeping him from resting. I guess when you love good music and have a passion for it, why rest when you can do that when you're read? Fortunately Stevens is very much alive and a part of us, and with the release of For Andrew (Konnex) he continues on with the dialogue he has created over the years, this time making an album in honor of pianist Andrew Hill.

The recordings on this CD were done in 1996 with a trio that includes Jeff Siegel on drums and Peter Herbert on bass, and hearing original Stevens compositions such as "The Lockout", "The River Po", "Specific Gravity", and "Spirit Song" will make the hairs on the back of your neck spine as you are blown away by his capabilities. Stevens is brilliant on the piano, and Siegel and Herbert egg on each other as if this was their last mission ever. Put that together with a recording that was done beautifully by engineer Chris White and this is definitely jazz music of a higher order. One can tell that the spirit of Andrew Hill was in the air, or at least he was on their minds when they were playing this, and Hill fans will appreciate the honor. Jazz fans will appreciate the fact that musicians like this are that passionate about their art.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Zen Zadravec is a musician some consider a virtuoso, and that usually is a lure to bring in readers for a review. I will say that the man is known to play a few instruments very well, but for Coming Of Age (self-released) he plays the piano along with his quartet (Chris Brown on drums, Alex Hernandez on bass, and Todd Bashore on saxophones).

Big deal? It is a big deal when you can make music that surpasses the expectations, especially someone who has won a lot of accolades and is known for studying under the greats of jazz, but now he knows it's his time to shine. Throughout this album he goes from the cool to the hard bop, from songs that would've been comfortable in a Miles Davis Quintet setting to something that would fit in on ECM, Zadravec has a style that feels welcoming, he commands when it's his time and even when he has Bashore doing a solo you can hear how he compliments him and the others into creating an aura that is undeniably rich. One can hear this in the gorgeous title track, along with "Have You Met Miss Jones", "We Miss You Mr. Kirkland", "Have You Meet Miss Jones", and teh two part "In Memoriam", written in honor of Zadravec's mother who passed away. It's great jazz, one that shows his love of the art and craft of the music, and one which features a lot of compassion through the communication of the musicians involved. All of this is captured beautifully engineered by Dave Kowalski at Bennett Studios in Englewood, New Jersey and while it may not have the classic RVG sound of neighboring Englewood Cliffs, it shows Kowalski has an ear to make his projects sound great. This is no exception.

Fine jazz never sounded any better, and time will show why Coming Of Age will be a necessary addition to any music collection.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Burr Johnson is a guitar wizard of the Al DiMeola variety, and he and his band get up in it and deep with What It Is (Lexicon). These guys mix up jazz with rock to create a fierce brew that doesn't let up, while it is a guitar-based album, you will enjoy hearing the musicianship of Thierry Arpino (drums) and Al Payson (bass), and together they are a trio that know each other's musical ways and quirks inside and out, as if they know the hairs on the backs of their hands, yes. In a song such as "Winter" they get smooth and laid back as they help create the scenario described in the title, while in "It Figures" it's a blitzkreig of sound that one finds hard to resist.

Don't resist. Each of them is mindblowing, with Johnson of course paving the way towards axe excellence. I didn't like it when a vocal showed up, but it's only a minor distraction. For solid jazz, rock, and a pinch of funk ("Slinky"), this is going to be hard to beat.

(What It Is is scheduled for release on February 5, 2009.)

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basic. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.

  • I would like to say "mahalo nui loa" (thank you very much) for the support all of you have given me and the column this past year, especially with awkward schedules and the move to a new home. In turn, I wish all of you a Hau'oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year) and may 2009 be a much better year for you and yours, and all of us as a whole. To my fellow kama'aina, I still hope to make it home next year. Eight years is way too long.

  • Take care, and I will return very soon with #227.
  • Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #225

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #225. I am John Book and things are fresh.

    BTW - if you like the column, please consider clicking the banner below for eMusic. You are able to subscribe and download albums in a way that I feel is more effective than iTunes, and there's a lot of incredible music here. You will not be disappointed.

    Also, each review features links to the artist's home page or MySpace page, so if you want to hear them, you can do so easily. Links are also provided to make a vinyl, CD, or digital purchase, since your local mall probably doesn't have most of these titles. If you would like to buy the compact disc, click the icon that looks like this:

    If you wish to make a digital MP3 purchase, you can click the digital player icon that looks like this:

    If a particular release does come out on vinyl, I of course will make a vinyl icon.

    Also, this column now finds its home over at my website, This blogspot will remain here as an archive for older columns, but after December 31, 2008, this blogspot page will no longer be updated. Bookmark now.

    Now, the column.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Common has released album #8, and obviously he has been around for a long time to where I can say that this is not your mom's Common.

    I say this because Universal Mind Control (Geffen) is a very different album from the man who gave us such classic hip-hop songs as "I Used To Love H.E.R.", "Resurrection", "Retrospect For Life", "The Corner", "Testify", "The Light", "The Question", and the countless cameos he has made on other albums. Fans have relied on him to be different from the norm during times when hip-hop had become an overwhelming mass of something undesirable. Some called him the boho poet, while some looked to him with class and style, the ladies dug his steez while guys were always blown away by his flows and rhymes. Much of that is still on this new album, but he has (at least for the moment) entered the place that most diehards usually resist going into: the club. Yes, Common is going for the club vibe by creating songs that would fit in the club. One generally associates Common with headnodder music, not something you would see with a lot of bling and choreographed dancing but this is a man who has gone Hollywood and appeared in a number of popular movies. What in the world is Common doing?

    Well, it is a stretch but the one thing you can't deny is that Common has the style to rock any track that is given to him, and let's be honest, had he existed as an artist in the 80's, he would be doing tracks with The Jonzun Crew, Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force, and be considered the king of electro. Many of the songs on the album are produced by The Neptunes, so Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo offer Common a chance to be more accessible in a marketplace where it seems there's not much room to "have style" and "be original" in a KRS-One fashion. Even though it's odd to hear Common rhyme over club bangers, in an odd way it does work. Perhaps the reality of hip-hop being truly universal comes through in a rapper who is comfortable in making an album that is different from his past work. If Williams and Hugo offered Common a chance to do something in a N*E*R*D context, that would work too. Kanye West, ever the arrogant one, immediately states that he is the fly oen in "Punch Drunk Love", but then Common comes up with
    my uh is in your body
    my uh is in your mind
    check my dictionary
    that ass is so divine
    it's slippery when it's wet, girl
    I can read your signs
    I knock and I knock, uh
    Can I come inside?
    I knock and I knock, girl
    Can I come inside?
    I feel like it's on when I'm in between your thighs

    Yes, these are the words from Common himself, someone who always came off as a poetic gentleman only to reduce himself to being "like everyone else". Of course he's human so in truth he is very much amongst all of us but one reason why people felt so strongly about Common is because he did present himself as someone who was intelligent, wise, and with a gift. The voice and flows are very much on this album, but the lyrics are simply, well, common. Not Common, but common, as in "everyone has done this before". Maybe it's Common playing the role, wanting to know what it feels like on the other side and decides to put on a new jacket to see if it's comfortable. The issue for me is can he return to what he has been known for. Fortunately in this day and age, rappers from the early 1990's are a lot more successful in their careers than those who had their spotlight in the 80's, but as someone who was a fan of his from the beginning, moreso with his second album, I'm not sure if those who have supported him will support this. I'm also not sure if those fans who will now depart will find a reason to want to hear him if they now feel he can be fickle.

    It's a different album, but maybe Universal Mind Control is a bit of a metaphor, a way to say "this is the album my label has wanted me to do for years, this is what some expect of me". I hope that in 2009, the final year of the first decade of the 21st century, he and many others will come off strong with something that is a statement of who Common is as an artist. Think about it, if Common were to pass on, how would it feel knowing that this was his last statement? This seems to be an album made for Hollywood, and he seems to be participating in the scenario he once talked about in "I Used To Love H.E.R." where he's now the one moving to L.A. I agree that black music is black music, and it's all good, but he's now treating the music, his music, in a way that seems a bit foul. Like the "woman" in that song, maybe she needs to make the rounds to realize what she is missing, but in a small way this might be a sign of what we could be missing from him. I just hope he'll be able to take back to make this shit stop, and whom I talk about is Common.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic After releasing three albums, one of which was not released in her own home country, Amerie Rogers is saying goodbye to one label as moves forward to another. Her former label, Epic/Sony, is quick to mark this occasion by releasing a compilation of Amerie's greatest hits. Wait, greatest hits?

    Generally someone gets a greatest hits package when they've actually had an album of hits, but this is not being called a greatest hits package per se. Instead, this is the iPod generation's idea of a compilation, and it's appropriately called Playlist: The Very Best Of Amerie (Legacy). In terms of actual hits, we do have them in the four songs people will generally associate with her: "Why Don't We Fall In Love", "Talkin' To Me", "1 Thing", and "Touch", but the rest of the album is filled with minor hits and album tracks. I think if this is a chance for people to listen to her as an artist at a time when things are increasingly becoming catered to the single, this will work. The CD is bargain priced and you do get the hits that will no doubt receive a lot of airplay. But perhaps it would have been better to release a 5 song EP/CD5 and leave it at that. If a jump to Def Jam will prove to be a good one for her as an artist, then this CD in Legacy's Playlist series will hopefully be the seeds of what will come to fruition.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic He has been called "the Godfather of Gypsy Zen", but Aranos is definitely one of the more creative artists in the experimental/avant-garde field. His last few albums have been complete mindtrips, and that happens once again as the mind shifts into new realms with Alone Vimalakirti Blinks (self-released).

    This one features six songs, and you have to listen to each track in full to get a grasp of what he's doing, which is to have various abstract sounds develop slowly but surely to become more durable sounds. "Rocket Sandals" sounds like someone striking a violin with a bow continuously for ten minutes as other sounds are mixed and filtered into it to where it may represent a crowded marketplace or a crowded mind. It then moves into a formal rhythm where you're not sure where it will lead you (or how or why) but it does. The other pieces continue on the adventure, with "This Job Is So Boring" sounding like the mundane songs we sing in our heads as we deal with the daily grind, while "Better Universe No. 2" is the evolution of what we hope to seek even if it seems it takes forever to find (which is perhaps why it sounds the way it does). It's a mixture of electronics, found sound, and real instrumentation, and Aranos does such a good job that you can't tell which is which. He takes you into his audio world and either you go exploring with him as filtered stringed instruments dance back and forth with the sound of heavy traffic, planes, ships, and boats, or move away. I suggest moving in and perhaps becoming a part of his voyage.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The title of Saltman-Knowles new CD, Return Of The Composer (Pacific Coast Jazz is meant to be a play of words on the Star Wars film, Return Of The Jedi, and it's meant to say that the world of jazz, if not music in general, needs to return to the strength of original compositions and new and innovating composers. The entire album features original compositions, either by double bassist Mark Saltman or pianist William Knowles, and along with vocalist Lori Williams Chisholm they show and prove that jazz music is very much alive and well in 2008 and beyond, that it doesn't always have to rely on the same old songs to be good. In songs like "Homeland", "Shalom And Salaam", and "Creepin' Up" they, along with drummer Jimmy "Junebug" Jackson, Alvin Trask on trumpet, and Robert Landham on sax, are able to make quality jazz that could easily influence future jazz musicians and vocalists. Landham's solo in "Bellport" comes in unexpectedly, since Saltman, Knowles, and Jackson work like an incredible jazz trio and it feels that way until Landham slips in and steals the show. Chisholm sings back and forth in a direct manner, and doing a bit of scat throughout. Her voice is the kind of jazz singing I enjoy listening to, and the silkiness makes me want to hear that all day and night. I hope she releases a full length under her own name, and as for the rest of the musicians, these guys are tight. It may be a return, but those in the know will say it's always been here, one just had to dust off the cobwebs

    (Return Of The Composer will be released on January 26, 2009.)

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Please, can someone answer me this question: who buys this bullshit? I'm talking about Akon and his new album, Freedom (Universal Motown).

    Two years ago I reviewed his Konvicted album and it was pure crap. In 2008... more of the same. Well okay, he does have the usual suspects: Wyclef Jean, T-Pain, Lil' Wayne, and Kardinal Offishall, but sometimes the guests outshine the star, and perhaps that was the goal. Akon still can't sing, the lyrics are wasteful, and if you buy an Akon album how many times do you have to say "Akon... uh huh"? How many times does one have to tolerate it?

    Akon makes silly ass music that makes me wonder why anyone cares for him as an artist, and do people think he has talent? Who said that voice of his is good? Mediocre at best. Pure crap.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Vocalist Joani Taylor swings in a fashion that I want to hear, as she is comfortable being backed by a band with a mean ass Hammond B-3 player (Bob Murphy) and musicians who know how to make the joint jump. While she calls her album In My Own Voice, I had to look at the CD a few times because Taylor reminded me a lot of Monday Michiru, both in style and tone. In other words, this lady rips and anyone who wants to hear a great, powerful female jazz singer will have to buy this album immediately.

    Taylor has released many albums over the years, but this is my first listen to her voice and music. She is often billed as "Canada's first lady of the jazz ballad", but on this album she shows she is much more than a balladeer, there's even a bit of hip-hop flavor in her version of Paul Desmond's "Take Five", with a rap done in 5/4 from Jay Kin). It was unexpected, but it was definitely welcome on an album that ranges from the acid jazz vibe of the late 60's and early 70's to bebop. Taylor shows her experience throughout this album, able to wrap herself around the music and making it her own, and the majority of this album features original Taylor/Murphy compositions and whether it's a passionate love song or one with a hint of the blues, you listen to her and believe in it because she most likely has felt these things, you can hear the joy, fear, pain, and pleasure with every word, line, and verse.

    In My Own Voice was recorded live in the studio with everyone in the same room at one time, and it's a probably good indication of what her live shows are like. Let's hope she'll perform at jazz festivals next year, showing her old fans what they've come to see and hear and showing new fans that all one needs to find is a powerful jazz singer who knows their craft. Taylor is someone who knows and honors the craft of jazz.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic When a new album comes across my way by an artist I hadn't heard before, I get semi-upset (not really) that I hadn't heard of them before. Fortunately if I really like them, I'll want to hunt down their previous work, and I can say that about Stephen Wilkinson, a British bloke who goes by the simple one-word moniker Bibio, and he makes one-man music.

    His new, third album is called Vignetting The Compost, has him creating all of the sounds heard and what hit me at first was how lo-fi and raw it sounded. It immediately reminded me of some of the surf movie soundtracks I've heard over the years, a bit of rock and pop with a love for folk sensibilities. In Bibio's case it probably comes from his upbringing, but it's the kind of music that brings to mind a sense of freedom that was once heard in those songs, representing that era very well. The lo-fi quality comes from the fact that, according to his bio, he uses cassette decks, a half-broken sampler, dictaphones, and experimental ways of affecting sounds, so the end result is different audio textures that is nice to hear in a time when twisting sounds is often done in an artificial/computerized way. "Flesh Rots, Pip Sown" opens the album as water cascades downs the falls and makes ready for the sun to come up and greet the day, at least that's how I hear it. The entire album has that earthy quality where you can imagine dirt and dust collecting on the instruments, but what you hear within your assumed muck is well-written music done by someone who attempts and succeeds at capturing a dated sound without him sounding dated. That can be a challenge for some artists who don't seem to grasp the power of a certain style, but he does. Each layer of his music pulls you in and never wants to let you go, and you never want to lose its grasp as you hear his guitar work in "The Ephemeral Bluebell", "Over The Far And Hills Away", or "The Garden Shelter", nor do you want these songs to become too electrified (although it would work perfectly in the hands of other artists).

    Bibio, at least with this album, is folksy, wholesome, surfy, melancholy, and colorful. It's the sound of someone who makes music with cassette players. In the past those tapes would go into a shoebox and perhaps never heard of again. It has a personal feel, perhaps I'm applying my sensibility to the cassettes of yesteryears, but it's a welcome change from the too-clean sounds of today.

    (Vignetting The Compost will be released on February 3, 2009.)

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Fuck, why do people torture other humans with this excrement? FALAKA!!!

    Circus is far from sounding anything like Lenny Kravitz's Circus, which is a far better album than this leftover bowl of tripe stew. It's warmed over dookie and no amount of sugar sprinkles will make this shit sound sweet (thank you Jemini The Gifted One.) So what's on it? Well, Britney Spears sings, again in a higher pitch so that her music sounds less womanly and more girly, even the ballads sound like a pre-teen who is ready to grow up. But is she? Through the crap, it seems obvious that she wants to reveal that she is a woman with heart and someone who cares, but is afraid that being stuck in the spotlight has and will hold her back. The liner notes claim she had a hand in five of the tracks, but I'm not sure what input she actually had in them, but most of the album is done from an autobigraphical point of view, as if she's telling her family, friends, and world that she lives in a circus, and someone forgot to clean up the elephant shit. To be honest, it works in that sense but the music isn't adventurous, risky, or mindblowing, it's all been done before by everyone from Pink to Kelly Clarkson, it sounds more American Idol-influenced than the music of someone who eventually influenced others to follow her "lead". She has worked with the best, but this album features names that, outside of Danja, don't really stand out. It's a risk for her to be releasing music like this at this stage in her career with people who simply want to add Spears to their growing resumes, and that's fine, we all network.

    But... for someone who is pushing herself to be better than best, and as someone who people feel is this generation's Madonna, she really doesn't have the voice, material, or producers to deserve that status. It sounds like everyone else who is out there, and yet people still view her as one of the best. Maybe she is one of the best, but it's certainly not as a musical artist.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic The duo of Darunam/Milan have made music together for a few years, and with The Last Angel On Earth (64-56 Media) they feel that the power of the world can be found through spirituality. They do this by combining elements of pop, electronic music, and various worldly sounds to create a fusion that will please fans of Trilok Gurtu and the more recent works of Peter Gabriel. The album goes through different movements, the path of which is indicated in the track titles:

    "Sarasvati (Amma)"
    "Karl (Move)"
    "Mahatma (Truth)"
    "Therese (Night)"
    "Raphael (Sunshine)"

    Lyrically they get into the temptations that exist within the world, and the lure of the entities that create ones sense of spirituality. It's an adventurous road that will take the listener through a lot of emotions, as if you're traveling throughout the countries gathering the elements and information towards your final place. It requires a deep listen, and will suit fans who may feel that today's music is missing a little extra something.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Chuck Bernstein is a member of the group Monk's Bones (whom I reviewed awhile back) but is also a musician and songwriter who gets into his muse and comes up with some incredible and often very interesting music. For Delta Berimbau Blues (CMB) his instrument of choice is the Brazilian Berimbau, but he has tweaked it to where it becomes similar to a Diddley Bow, and it has a built-in wah-wah! Can a one-string instrument pull off a full blues album? It can when you're accompanied by some powerful musicians, including Greg Douglass, Sister Debbie Sipes, Sam Bevan, Roswell Rudd, and Lisa Kindred among many others.

    The songs are either duets or trio situations where Bernstein's playing, often coming off like Indian drones, backs up a guitarist or bassist. It gets more interesting when two berimbau players are playing with each other, as is the case with "Viola Foot Stompin' Blues". It feels more rural and arguably more backwoods, but you can imagine the crickets and the creek in the back as you hear these. Delta Berimbau Blues is not your typical blues album, but it's that reason alone that makes this a worthwhile listen, as it takes the blues out of its normal home, takes it to Brazil and brings it back, showing that any sound can be turned into the blues with the right knowledge and appreciation from the best musicians.

    (Delta Berimbau Blues will be released on January 27, 2009.)

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Leonisa Ardizzone, depending on the song, tends to sound like across between Sade Adu and Carole King, with a touch of Michael Franks. While she is being promoted as a jazz artist, she could easily be a pop or folk artist if she wanted to, as her vocals are quite versatile. On The Scent Of Bitter Almonds (self-released) she performs with her quintet through a nice range of material, including "Take The A Train", ""Well You Needn't", "Scary Face" (written by her drummer, Justin Hines, "On The Ropes" (written by her guitarist, Chris Jennings, and her own "The Architect's Lament". Her voice is very lively, able to create an instant mood without any vocal theatics that often make some jazz singers go beyond overboard. She is subtle yet effective, and with a quintet that includes Hines, Jennings, Bob Bowen (bass), Bob Sabin (bass), and Jess Jurkovic (piano), they allow each other to challenge and take each other into places often unexpected. "Midnight Sun" is a song that one could easily find Steely Dan pulling off. I was at first put off by the drum solo in the song, which is odd for me since I'm a huge fan of them (drum solos that is), but it made me think of the song in a rock fashion where it's thrown in as a way to create an unexpected sense of momentum. Hines does that before the quintet goes right back into the theme of the song again before it feels as if they pulled the plug unexpectedly, Ellington-style.

    The Leonisa Ardizzone Quintet sound like a group I would enjoy in a live setting, and it would have been a nice bit of extra if she had added a live recording as a bonus track (maybe next time). The Scent Of Bitter Almonds is a vocal jazz album that doesn't get stale during its duration, which for me is a very good thing.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Jazz pianist Pamela Hines has impressed me with her last two albums with the kind of playing that I feel should put her up there with some of the greats, as she's already up there. For her new album she takes the Christmas route and eases up a bit in her approach, but it allows the listener to hear the subtleties in her playing with an applied, delicate touch.

    New Christmas (Spice Rack) may sound short with a 9-song line-up, but five of the songs clock in at over five minutes, one that comes close to reaching the seven minute mark ("Custom Santa"). The playing that I found on previous albums is still here, hearing her solo in "What Chance Have I?" makes one hope this will be the kind of Christmas music that will be on mainstream airwaves for the next forty years. For this album she brings in a group of three ladies who alternate with eack track, and then coming together for two tracks. Patricia Williamson, April Hill, and Monica Hatch have all had their share of awards and accolates, and in these songs they show why they've made an impression on thousands of jazz fans. I was most impressed by Williamson's voice, who can do a bit of jazz scat with ease (as she does in "Gift Of Giving") and then caress the mic ever so nicely in "Custom Santa". Add to this the great rhythm section of bassist Dave Landoni and drummer Miki Matsuki, and Hines was definitely with good company during these sessions, and that strength only helps make Hines play like the professional she is. Regardless of the holiday, Hines is the kind of player that should be heard year round, and in a better world she would be world famous.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Rebecca Cline & Hilary Noble are a duo that like their jazz to be played with funk and strengf (yes, that's spelt "s-t-r-e-n-g-f"). Cline (piano) and Noble (saxophone) are a part of the group Enclave, and in fact this is is a new Enclave album but perhaps by placing actual names and faces on the cover, people may be able to identify with them and their music a bit more. The album is called Enclave Diaspora (self-released), and it is an energetic album that is pretty much Latin jazz at its best, showing its heavy influence from New Orleans and its connection to the Caribbean. It seems that Hurricane Katrina has allowed many musicians to go back and strengthen their love of jazz and one of the cities that it calls home, and this album is full of the richness that makes this music great. What moves me the most is the fact that most of these songs are original compositions, so in many ways this is Cline's and Noble's way of thanking the places and cultures that offered this music, while adding their little bit to the push for continuity for more. "Chorinho pre lemãnjá", "Iyá Modupué", and "Nameless" sound like the kind of wicked hybrids that would've fit perfectly on albums by Herbie Mann, Ramsey Lewis (Cline's Fender Rhodes solo in "Rue de Buci" is reminscent of Lewis' work from the early to mid 70's), and Herbie Hancock (think "Sly" from Head Hunters if it was lead by Gato Barbieri or The Fania All-Stars). It's non-stop energy from start to finish, and the only think that holds this back from being perfect is the elementary looking CD cover that gives it a slightly cheap look, far from what the music itself suggests. In truth the cover is secondary, and yet it might hold people back from wanting to buy this. Look past the cover and find out why I like the music so much. Then make your own cover.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic It would be a bit foolish to say that in the vast world of recorded jazz, you still have to look for music of substance. Considering how much jazz is released on a regular basis, there's more than enough music to go around, but sometimes they end up bring nothing but sonic clutter. Gene Ess is not clutter, in fact for some it may be the jazz album you've been seeking for for most of your life.

    He was born Gene Shimosato, a cool enougn name right there but that's besides the point. For now he is known as Gene Ess, which in a way is cool in itself but that will leave potential listeners and fans to question "what's Ess?" Now you know. He could've been Gene @, and people would've asked "at what?" At his music, that's what, and his music is incredibly played and recorded on his brand new album, Modes Of Limited Transcendence (Simp). Ess produced this alongside engineer Randy Crafton and mix engineer Sal Mormando, and on top of that, Ess mastered this disc himself. The Japanese tend to have a keen ear, and as I'm currently listening to the audiobook of Olver Sacks Musicophilia I learned that there is a strong belief that some ethnicities do have a better sense of listening and comprehension, although it is uncertain still as to how this happened. Is it with the ear canal, or the hairs within the ear? That's besides the point, for we are talking about Gene Ess.

    Ess plays the guitar in a Pat Martino-style occasionally offering a few Pat Metheny touches, or at least this is what I hear. Whether it's a luxurious solo or something that plays along the piano melody (courtesy of Tigran Hamasyan, he plays with such elegance and grace that you wished he would record more so you could buy his entire discography, or hopes he performs at a nearby jazz venue for two weeks so you could skip meals and check out whatever they play. Then there's the incredible rhythm section of Tyshawn Sorey drums and Harvie S. (no relation to Ess, on bass), and these guys play with the kind of finesse reminiscent of some of the best jazz albums of the 1970's, when freeform could weave itself into bebop or bop while mellowing out in the ECM range. "Messiaen Shuffle" is a track that combines all of these elements into an energetic song where you can visualize the walk and strut created by Ess while the traffic and disgrunted faces (created beautifully by Hamasyan, S, and Sorey) are put in view. The tone that Ess has is most welcome, not distorted nor complex, not unlike Larry Coryell. The contrasts and coloring of these musicians are not so much precise, but... how do I say this, it's an exciting listen to not only hear musicians play like this, but to hear it recorded and mixed so well.

    Keen musicianships, keen ears, keen love of jazz and music, and creativity in general. If you welcome these things, welcome Gene Ess into your mental vicinity. One of the best jazz albums of 2008.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic While some people don't enjoy cover version, I enjoy them if they are creative and the artist makes an attempt in trying something different. It doesn't have to be that way, because a good song is a good song, but when given a new hat, give it a new twist. Wave Mechanics Union are a trio consisting of Ryan Fraley, Ralph Johnson and vocalist Lydia McAdams, and for their debut album they decide to tackle progressive and classic rock and give it a jazz motif. Second Season (HX Music), the title of which is taken from Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song" (covered here in an excellent arrangement), gives these classic songs a fresh set of clothes to change into, not only showing their love of the material but also how fine these musicians are. Wave Mechanics Union are a trio that collaborate with a wide range of musicians, including horn players and a string quartet so their sound is full and rich to the point of no return. A lot of these songs are often thought of with a penis attached, so to have them performed with a woman singing them is a welcome chance, especially upon hearing the war chestnut "Won't Get Fooled Again" (The Who) or "Killer Queen" (Queen). They even get into Rush's "Available Night" to where you might not even recognize it as a Rush song. For those who were raised on these songs, the jazzy approach may sound like something Norah Jones would be comfortable in doing, but McAdams voice' is stronger and perhaps more comforting. One of the song's defining moments has to be their cover of Yes' "Heart Of The Sunrise", which truly sounds like something you'd hear on a high school band album if high school bands were this cool and skilled. Screw the Airmen Of Note, this is Wave Mechanics Union!

    Some songs are given the instrumental treatment. The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" features an arrangement that makes it sound like something you'd hear on a Stan Kenton (who is referred to in the liner notes) or Johnny Harris album, while Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig In The Sky" could have been destroyed if the upbeat (!!!) arrangement featured vocals and fortunately it doesn't.

    It's a jazz album with a twist, one that is actually good without it being predictable. Curious to know where this group will lead us next.

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. If you have any new music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce, please contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact address. In the past I have generally frowned over receiving digital files, but I will accept them on a case by case basic. I still prefer hard copy as I want to hear the quality of the recording (which is important to me), but digital files are fine.

  • I still have a few more CD's to go and because of that, I may have yet another column by the weekend, but we'll see.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #226.