Liquid Weeld is the name of a Japanese duo who say they are "sound artists". They combine abstract composition with experimental assembly and come out with something that will appeal to those who enjoy the more eccentric side of Bjork's music. flra (Mur Mur) consists of nothing but voice, guitar, piano, and various audio artifacts which help paint a broader picture as the album develops. The pacing, and the space between various sounds, is very deliberate, this isn't music that you can casually listen to and hope for instant gratification. That's the beauty of Liquid Weeld, and with tracks with simple titles such as "Reed", "Lotus", "Fennel", "Anise", "Olive", and "Silk Tree" you have to take it in like an autumn day, each leaf falling wherever and you patiently wait for it to land.
It's very much music similar to being in a dream state, and like many of those which are pleasant, the listener will want to hang out and visit for awhile. Remarkable stuff.
(flra is available from CDBaby.)
Akira Kosemura is a pianist from Japan who likes to explore her music with a passion to experiment. It's On Everything (Someone Good) may seem like a casual solo piano piece, especially after listening to the opening track ("Orgel"), which sounds as if Kosemura is out in the rain as synthesized raindrops fall. "Unknown" begins safe, but then the audio of her playing stutters as various natural sounds also stop and go in the process, in an electronic manner. It's not electronica, but you can hear that there is interaction in the machine and it's not exactly computer generated. "A Park" is a beautiful piece consisting of piano and chimes, and every now and then the sound of what could be a shopping mall or a playground, and the celestial sounds could make one imagine the perfect winter afternoon right before sunset.
Her playing is extraordinary, but her sound composition is an added feature as well, as she puts herself and the music into different audio scenarios where everything reacts to each other perfectly. It's On Everything is indeed a solo album and I for one plan on hearing her music for years to come. I would not mind hearing her collaborate with other musicians, if this is something she is into (and I'm sure she is). Until then, this is a fascinating album for anyone who enjoys hearing brilliance in the 21st century.
(It's On Everything is available as a CD from CD Universe, or as MP3's from eMusic.)
Who are these Aster kids, and why should I or you care? Well, if you are into dreamy pop with hints of rock in there to give the music a much needed punch every now and then, Some Things Seldom Heard Of (self-released) is for you.
Despite their huge, massive sound, Aster is only a duo, but it shows what can be done in the studio if done properly. They mix the traditional guitars, basses, and drums with various electronics and gadgets to create something that is actually more accessible than that basic description, and I think that's partially due to a combination of the force of the music and how the lyrics tell a story that is worth learning about, understanding, and remembering. Aster can often get awash in their own cacophony, or they lay low and help color the pictures they're trying to paint. They are a variant of similar sounding bands, but are distinct enough to set themselves from the pack, which I feel is important in a marketplace that tends to be clustered by bands who are there merely to fill the void. Aster is a band that separates them from the cluster.
(Some Things Seldom Heard Of is available through CD Universe.)
For sample-happy worshippers and fans of musical thievery, Negativland can easily be in anyone's Top 5 (if not top two). Their brand new DVD will definitely please as many fans who may be disappointed that their favorite audio collages have been given the visual treatment.
Our Favorite Things (Other Cinema) is a three hour DVD featuring various Negativland songs put into video form, most of which are very creative and honoring the Negativland lifestyle. This includes clips for "Gimme The Mermaid", "U2", "Time Zones", "Freedom's Waiting", "Yellow, Black And Rectangular", "Over The Hiccups" (the audio is taken from one of those Recordio-type one-off records of a little girl singing, but the visual representation is anything but charming, which what makes its effective), and the videos over their issues with Pepsi are soon-to-be classics. Now, as someone who loves audio manipulation, there are a few piees on here that come off as second rate because what makes these pieces work is how the audio is cut-up, not to find visuals for it. Such as "Yellow, Black And Rectangular", which is nothing but basic computer animation that a 7-year old could do. No, let me take that back, a 7-year old could do better, and it's one of the only few low-points on the DVD. The biggest highlight, and there are many, is the bonus material, which features an interview with the man known to Negativland aficionados as The Weatherman. Watching the group's co-founder scrub shoes for 15 minutes before he allows anyone to enter his home is the closest thing to actually seeing the lead eyeball of The Residents without the mask (and to my knowledge that hasn't happened yet), but as peculiar and quirky as he might seem, he is very much what Negativland is all about. It is the revealing of the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, and seeing that he's a bit like one of us, but with long white hair and beard. Another great piece is Visit Howland Island, and as far as mixing up audio and video to create a new statement, this works beautifully and I wish the entire DVD was done like this.
The DVD comes with a bonus tribute CD to Negativland, and it's doo-wop versions of some of the group's biggest 'hits', as performed by The 180 o'G's. It was funny during the first two songs but got boring real fast, although I did like the use of the MC Hammer dolls to represent two of the members in the "group".
(The Our Favorite Things DVD, which is packaged with the bonus Negativland tribute CD, is available from CD Universe.)
Jazz fans of hard bop need their music tight, fast, and now, and one doesn't need to look any further than Come In Out Of The Old Vol. 1 by drummer Don Capone. While the artwork is generic and basic (greytones on white), the music is a lot more complex and colorful, as Capone and his band display in the nine tracks on this CD, featuring renditions of Dexter Gordon's "I Want More" and Gigi Gryce's "Minority".
What I liked about this album is that while some of the songs here are done straightforward, Capone allows the guys (Chris Mastrobattisto on sax, Matt Lorentzen on piano, and Carl Jackson sitting in on bass) to do their own thing and carry the songs where they feel they need to be, without worry or hesitation, and it feels like the kind of music these guys would do in a live setting. At times it has the feel of a Charles Mingus recording, where one can sense the presence of its leader although he himself makes sure everyone plays here with equal billing and feeling. Unfortunately the CD doesn't come with production, engineering, or mastering credits, but the sound they achieved here is well done. As you can tell by the title, this is the first installment of what will be a series of four CD's, and fans of jazz drummers and drumming will eat this up big time, along with those who want to hear jazz recordings that sound alive and not just slapped together. Come in out of the cold indeed, and feel the warmth of the good vibes inside.
(Personal picks: ""It Could Happen To You", "I Want More", and "Minority.")
(Come In Out Of The Old Vol. 1 is available from CDBaby.)
When David Finck's electric bass is heard along with the drums that start "I Know" on the opening track to Future Day soundbrush), one can't help but smile and have a sense (a personal "I Know...") that this is the start of musical greatness.
At least that's how I felt when I played the first song and continued on. Finck, Joe Locke (vibes), Joe La Barbera (drums), and Tom Ranier (piano) sound like those jazz quartets of yesteryear that continue to get praised 30 to 40 years after the fact, when the chemistry feels right, the vibe is spot on, and the quality of the recording is sharp to where you think you can even sense what kind of drinks may or may not have been in the studio. One of the primary reasons why the sound is up to par is that Finck himself produced it, along with executive producer Roger Davidson and engineer Darwin Best, and I mention this because everything about this recording stands out as brilliant, one of those albums that you want to sit in your comfy chair and just mellow out to, or test your audiophile equipment out so you can say "my resonance is better than your resonance". Jokes aside, the music here comes from powerful musicians with a lot of experience behind them, and they play here with the kind of intensity and sophistication that displays the class that jazz fully deserves. Even in old chestnuts like "Nature Boy", "Wayne Shorter's "Black Eyes" and Cedar Walton's "Firm Roots" they bring new life into it and make it appear as if you're hearing them for the first time. But that's the greatness of jazz, being able to reinterpret the familiar and make you scratch your head in wonder.
I honestly wish more albums would come out sounding like this, and I hope the label will consider releasing this as an advanced resolution DVD-A disc. This is that good.
(Future Day will be released on February 12th and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)
Keith Marks has taken his masterful musicianship of the flute around the world, and with Foreign Funk (Markei) he demonstrates why he is one of the best flautists around.
For some, the flute has had a good and bad reputation in jazz. It was an instrument one didn't expect to hear, but with people like Herbie Mann and Yusef Lateef bringing it into the mix and developing its own unique voice, the flute became something that more artist wanted to bring into their music and compositions. I'll admit, when the album began with a cover of Harold Faltermeyer's "Axel F", I was a bit concerned. It's a pop song, a hit one at that, and at first he played it as is. As the song moved on it was noticeable that Marks was trying to do something more than just a direct cover, otherwise it would be nothing more than smooth jazz fodder. All of a sudden, he steps off of the song while remaining in it, and it showed me that this guy wasn't about to make this album in cruise control. The song goes for 5:09 and about a minute before the end, he starts doing that breathing thing, where he catches his breath in between notes. As I've said before, I've always been sold by that sound, and I don't know why, I guess it's adding a human element as if to say "I'm here" and perhaps this album could be something good.
It was more than something good. His covers are well chosen, and you're able to hear him play at his best in versions of "Summer Breeze" (Seals & Crofts), "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" (the late Joe Zawinul track made famous by Cannonball Adderley), "Eleanor Rigby" (The Beatles), and for a mellow approach, "Always" (Atlantic Starr). As an album closer, I wish he had done "Mission: Impossible" in the original 5/4 time signature but instead takes the safe route and does it in 4/4. Had he done it in 5/4, I think it would have been a nice brush off to the naysayers who may find reason to pass this up. There's no reason to pass this up at all, and he also takes time to introduce two original compositions, "Patsy" and the title track. Sample heads take note.
(Foreign Funk is available through CDBaby.)
Hendrik Meurkens first heard jazz music as a teenager growing up in Hamburg, Germany, or so his bio says. From that moment on he was hooked, and through a lot of listening he discovered Toots Thielemans and seeked the harmonica as his own. As with many jazz explorers, he found himself discovering, enjoying, and embracing the music of Brazil. That resulted in an album on the Zoho label, New York Samba Jazz Quintet, which received a lot of positive reviews.
Meurkens continues his love of jazz and Brazilian sounds with his new album, Sambatropolis, also on Zoho. Meurkens' main instrument here is the harmonica, but he also plays the vibes on a few of them too. When it comes to the harmonica in jazz, the instrument has generally been reserved for the chosen few, and with this album he may become a part of that elite club, with the kind of playing that shows professionalism without going overboard. The arrangements of standards such as "Fotografia" and "Você Vai Ver" (both Antonio Carlos Jobim originals) honor the originals and the country in which they originate, while the band (which includes Adriano Santos and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums, Rodrigo Ursaia on tenor sax, and Helio Alves on piano) execute these songs as if their lives depended on it. Meurkens' appreciation is obvious and the music sounds as native to him as anything else, and the musicians sense that by giving it their all. He offers a number of original pieces too, including "Ocean Lights", "Hot And Stuffy" (the music on the album is hot indeed, and anything but stuffy), "Choro Da Neve" and the title track, which could easily be adapted by others and become standards in their own right. Whether it's romantic ballads or eager dance numbers, there's nothing on Sambatropolis that is bad. Not one song. Played with precision, the recording, mixing, and mastering is top notch, fans who love Latin jazz will find every reason to buy this and pass it along to friends. If Sambatropolis was a real city, we should all pack up and live there.
(Other musicians on the album include Jed Levy (tenor sax & flute), Ian McDonald (piano), Pedro Ramos (cavaquinho), Gustavo Amarante (bass), and Mauricio Zottarelli (drums).)
(Sambatropolis is available through CD Universe.)
Olivia Block is a new name and artist to my ears, and she is an artist and composer who likes to combine the "authentic" sounds of "real" instruments with the "natural" sounds in life that are often not considered musical. She does this by both playing them in real time and allowing modern technology to mess with the process, and in Heave To (Sedimental) she creates a three song sound collage that will reveal different things with each listen.
In the two part title track you hear everything from glass to rain, and what sounds like fire. But sounds are sped up, reversed, slowed down, played within, mixed in the forefront, she does everything to perhaps confuse the listener but not quite. Most of the sounds come in and out of the mix like random thoughts, such as the sound in "Heave To (Part 1)" that sounds like an incoming truck pressing on the car horn, or how some elements come off like trying to tune into a distant frequency on airwaves unknown. Musicians are credited with instruments, including Block, credited as the cellist, and while you do hear instruments throughout, they're not done in a traditional way and you never know when they'll be played. In fact, a car horn may very well be the trumpet/trombone combination. In "Make The Land" you'll have to be sure that there are no other sounds around you as you listen, so you can concentrate on the unveiling of each sound.
Perhaps Heave To is one way to acknowledge the everyday sounds we ignore because we have our radios, CD's, or MP3 players blaring loudly, and Block is allowing us to take that in for 35 minutes. Or perhaps it's nothing more than a creative mind trying to work wonders through the power of sound. I think it's a bit of both.
(Heave To is available through SquidCo.)
There's a song on Sillage (Sedimental) by Brendan Murray & Seth Nehil called "Runs Toward Needles" which sounds like someone looking in a closet full of percussion and brass instruments and never being able to find what they want. The title "Runs Toward Needles" in some way represents the artwork a bit, what looks like a bunch of little lines scribbled as if it's a fabric, thumb print, or a tree limb, but up close at 200x. It is this burst of confusion that may make you want to understand Sillage, but don't look to understand. Look to listen, and listen to observe.
Both Murray and Nehil bring in found sounds and create them at the same time, and combine them every now and then to make sounds that could be the source of sound effects to a bizarre film of submarine dynamics. In a piece like "Clothes Tear" one doesn't hear clothes or tearing. For the first half of the sound you hear a lot of electronics twisting and turning to be heard, and then it heads underwater, maybe to find that sonic submarine. Then with perfect timing, something begins to rise. At least that's my interpretation of it, and in truth it's nothing more than collaborative sounds that make an effort to speak to each other while having its own voice be heard and known.
The 8-track album has to be heard in full from start to finish, since some tracks contradict each other in sound, sometimes they contradict within the same track. One part may sound bright and open as if it's some vehicle riding on the beach as water comes to shore, and then you're in outer space. I go back to the needle theory, and perhaps that if there is some sense of logic to this, the needle has to be found. But perhaps the portrait Murray and Nehil are trying to present is about all of the needles, and that if you're going to dive in, you'll bleed a lot. If you venture in, bring rubbing alcohol.
(Sillage is available through SquidCo.)
What happens if you enter an album, knowing that it's called In Six Parts (Sedimental), there are six tracks, but they are all untitled? Good for you.
Tim Feeney and Vic Rawlings are experimental explorers, as they put together ear-piercing sounds through circuitry and other elements. If a sound is achieved, they will bring it in and try to twist it around. At first it may come off a bit like taking a hearing test, but then the circuitry starts to get distorted and ugly. This isn't the kind of album you want to blast on headphones unless you want to go deaf, as these frequencies can and will cause pain and nausea if played too loud. During the quieter moments you get a sense of harmony within the circuits, letting the listener know that before electronica and electronic music, there were electronic sounds, all wanting and needing to be heard. Stuff like this is still as fascinating as discovering that electronic record at the library with the caked up masking tape. When it's loud it's brutal, but as it moves back and forth from that to a gentle buzz and hum, it sounds like the origin of... everything.
(In Six Parts is available through SquidCo.)
Jazz singer Lionelle Hamanaka has a voice very similar to Monday Michiru, and as Michiru has explored the world of jazz many times in her career over the decades, Hamanaka's roots in jazz go deep as well. A Different World (self-released) has her singing some of her favorites along with a number of originals, including the hopeful title track where she sings about peace, love, and harmony towards a different world, perhaps where there is a unity through respecting ones differences.
What I like about her vocal style is her ability to go out of the context of the song and head back into it, not unlike Carmen McRae. It isn't McRae's attitude or personality that is captured, but rather the nuances of her voice that Hamanaka uses to good effect in songs like "Quasimodo", "Love's Grace Forever", and "Burgundy". Her musicians (including Jimmy Madison on drums and Richard Wyands on piano) are the perfect accompaniment for her, and I would not mind hearing an instrumental album from them as well. Hamanaka is a good singer that does this with ease, and hopefully she will follow this one with another very soon.
(A Different World is available through CDBaby.)
I really thought I had reviewed these two CD's from a band called Equal Time, but I guess because I've been playing them more often than not, I accidentally moved them to the side. Best to talk about them now before I end up playing them over and over again.
With their We Wake (Avant Coast) album, this jazz improv band take on the trio angle and play the kind of jazz that sounds like "workshop jazz" on that Peter Brotzmann vibe. Everything is free form but there is movement throughout, so it's not just doodling and noodling. Mike Walsh (drums), Thom Keith (saxophones) and Tim Webb take on this music mission with ease. Each of the album's four songs are at least 12 minutes long, with the longest track ("Warm Up") clocking in at a nice 16:06. What you hear is assembly at its best, three mechanics putting together the songs and eventually meeting, turning heads, turning their backs on each other, and then going in for the kill, only to mix up that formula, remove a few things and add a few more. It's an album that feels a bit inward, and one almost wants to get involved to see how their input could add to the music they're doing here.
With their latest album Regeneration X (Avant Coast) the group added a new member into the group, trombonist Derek Kwong, and just when I thought things couldn't get better, it does. Kwong is the Mentos to the group's Coca-Cola, and it's great to hear him and Keith bounce ideas off of each other as they bring in Walsh and Webb in for the kill. At times, Walsh and Webb are locked into each other like fingercuffs, and they're off doing their thing while Kwong and Keith are on the other end doing theirs. Of course these guys are fully aware of what's going on, and when they find that moment to bring everything together, it's pure magic. The workshop vibe is still there but the sound quality here is a major step up from We Wake, so one is able to focus a bit better on each musician and their contributions. This is effective in "Cryptozoology", as the group come in playing at an eerie crawl before settling on a rhythm and creating a scene that isn't unlike some of the best free jazz of the 1970's. Webb's bass work throughout the album, but especially in "Cryptozoology", is subtle but he at times is the anchor that make sure everyone comes back to his rhythm, only for him to turn around and start jamming with Walsh, whose drumming is powerful throughout.
Orchestrated freedom, this is what I hear in Equal Time, and they each give equal time to each other but when they start improvising together all at once, it is "their" time and the intensity has to be heard and experienced to be believed.
(We Wake is available through Avant Coast. Regeneration X is available through CDBaby.)
...AND NOW, THE HAWAIIAN MUSIC CORNER:
If you were born and/or raised in Hawai'i, eventually you move on to discover the rest of the world, or at least those who are fortunate enough to do so. When you do travel, you enjoy everything you see and hear, and yet somehow there's something that calls you back home. It might be food, it might be the people, it might be the music, it might be about living a certain way that somehow hasn't spread across the country or the world, but should. From Palolo comes Stephen Inglis, who plays ki ho'alu (Hawaiian slack key guitar). There was a time when ki ho'alu was dying out, as the traditionalists and purists often kept the secrets to themselves and died without ever leaving their knowledge behind. Slack key became "old kine music", even though when people like Leonard Kwan, Gabby Pahinui, and my uncle Raymond Kane would begin playing, you immediately stop and listen. It's not just music, it's a lesson being taught, a story being told, traditions being passed, life being lived. A renaissance would happen, and a form of music that was once our little secret was being passed on to a younger generation, some of whom never heard of it. Some of them knew but may have been too afraid to "make shame". Then it was realized that a number of people around the world were familiar, and then its roots were explored.
That continues today, and with the help of Inglis it will continue for many generations to come. Mahina O Wai'alae ('Aumakua) is an album that came after Inglis lived in the Bay Area for a few years. He had never forgotten his Palolo upbringing, but he didn't realize what he really missed until he was out of of the norm. When he returned, there was that need to give back, and he did so through his love of music. The album features him and his guitar, and he occasionally steps up to sing some of these songs, all of them Hawaiian and ki ho'alu classics. He is joined by Ozzie Kotani, and together they perform such songs as "Makee 'Ailana", "Kaimana Hila", "Hanohano Lililehua", "Pua Lililehua", "Pu'u O Kaimuki" and "E Ku'i Sweet Lei Poina 'Ole". These songs not only mark times in our history, but some of them offer a chance to think and reminisce about those times when these places and visions described were once everywhere, when it felt like the biggest backyard you could ever play in. At times it feels that way although with age the playground tends to get smaller. The album opens and closes with a personal favorite, "No Ke Ano Ahiahi". It opens the album as an instrumental, and in a way helps tell the listener what the album is about, especially with the illustrated album cover of the moon coming into play, and the evening is the time when the menehune get to play on their stomping grounds again. The album takes a tour and eventually returns to "No Ke Ano Ahiahi", this time done with vocals. It is performed almost as a lullaby, and mixed in a fashion that sounds like it was done with a simple cassette recorder (in truth, probably a bit of EQ tweaking). The fact that it ends, "simple", shows me that Inglis understands the history and power of Hawaiian music, as it is the subtle things that help bring things closer to home, figuratively and literally. Instant homesick.
For fans of the acoustic guitar, each of the songs have their own custom tunings, many of which were passed within families from generation to generation, just as Indian classical musicians learn their craft from within. But today, these tunings are acknowledge and passed on so that musicians can keep the traditions alive and move it on for the future of ki ho'alu. Mahina O Wai'alae is a simple album, but in a good way, without extra secret ingredients or additives. It's the perfect Sunday morning album for anyone who longs for the beauty of a bright Honolulu moon.
(Mahina O Wai'alae is available through Mele.com.)
...AND NOW, SOME STUFFS:
Steel an' Skin-Reggae Is Here Once Again (CD + DVD set)
Yoshi Wada-Lament For Rise And Fall Of The Elephantine Crocodile (CD)
The Steel an' Skin album is a part of EM's Steel Pan Series, while Yoshi Wada continues the label's tradition of bringing back the eclectic and experimental side of music. For more information, click to the EM Records website. Many of EM's releases are available in the U.S. through Dusty Groove.
April 24... Cabo, Blacksburg, Virginia
April 25... Metro!, Roanoke, Virginia
April 26... Eighteenth Street Lounge, Washington, DC
I can at least say that initial copies of the new album will be packaged with a 40-page hard cover book featuring lyrics and album credits, and an illustrated children's story written by Slug. It will also contain a bonus DVD with over an hour of live footage and extras from the final shows of the group's Everybody Loves A Clown tour shot at First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis. To make it even more interesting, and surround sound heads take note, the audio for the concert was mixed in 5.1 surround sound, something I hope more hip-hop artists will push themselves to do in 2008 and beyond.
In other words, if you want the music, make the effort to buy and hear it, and in this case see and feel it as well. BTW - I want Slug on my album.
Do You Wanna Ride
Let's Get Lifted
(Still) Number 1
Where is the Love (featuring Corinne Bailey Rae)
I Can Change
I Want You (She's So Heavy)
Dance to the Music
PDA/Feel Like Making Love
Used to Love U
Show Me (Encore)
So High (Encore)
The album is also available as a CD/DVD package. Now, being a semi-Beatles elitist, I'm curious about his rendition of "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". As long as it's not as weak as the version in the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, I'm alright.
As with previous albums in the series, Bernstein continues to explore what he calls "the concept of radical Jewish music", and anyone who has followed some of the albums on Tzadik know that they do this regularly and very well. For this one, it holds true to some of the Jewish traditions while exploring the vast musical world that is out there. In other words, when it comes to Bernstein, expect the unexpected.
Bernstein and his Nonet will be performing songs from Diaspora Suite and other music at two CD release events:
January 27 at Bottom Of The Hill in San Francisco
February 10 at The Jazz Standard in New York City
...AND ON A SELF PROMOTIONAL NOTE: