Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #202

Aloha, and welcome to the 202nd edition of The Run-Off Groove. I am John Book, and sometimes you need THREE burritos to carry you through the day. This is that day. Before I start, head over to Okayplayer for a look at some reviews I've done for them recently, including:

Carole King-Tapestry (2008 2CD Legacy Edition)
3 Na Massa (self titled debut)
Various Artists-Gold: New Jack Swing

Along with Okayplayer, I'm a contributing writer at FudgeFM and I will be doing reviews for them very soon. You can read some of my recent blog entries there.

  • Oh yes, the "three burrito"-worthy column. Tapatio ready? We begin.

    Image Hosted by Marco Benevento is a pianist/keyboardist who looks not only to jazz, but music in itself as a place of exploration, even if it takes him to the extreme. It's not free jazz, but Invislble Baby (Hyena) is an album that takes advantage of the freedoms with jazz and music and travels to some unique and occasionally strange places.

    The album features Benevento playing not only the piano and Mellotron but also getting into circuit bending toys. For those who don't know what this is, circuit bending is the process of taking old toys and electronics, opening them up, and fooling around with the circuitry so that they will create sounds and melodies, far from their original intention. There is even an annual festival dedicated to nothing but the Bent way of life, with workshops and performances from those who make this not only a hobby but a way of life, to recycle the old in order to create brand new sounds. Benevento takes the art of improvisation and audio manipulation and incorporates this into his music, whether it's to accent the songs (as he does in the appropriately titled "Atari", which begins with the sounds from actual video games, leading into him playing video game music on the piano as 8k sounds dance around him). Or with "The Real Morning Party" it sounds like his alarm clock is singing to him instead of sounding like an annoyance, and the groove the trio (Benevento, drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Reed Mathis) create is uplifting and encouraging. Do I also hear an Omnichord? The way the album moves along from being in the jazz tradition to creating futuristic pop tunes is nice, and the unpredictability of things upon first listen will only make listeners want to hear it as a whole again.

    Invisible Baby was said to be inspired by a dream Benevento had about a baby girl that would become a part of his life, so perhaps some of the music can be considered exploration of the inner child that will pass its experiences on to his daughter, only to pave the way for the big world that is out there. It could be said that the album moves back and forth from the concert hall to the bedroom, as the songs leaning towards jazz are big and bold, while the bedroom music comes from fooling around with sounds in your immediate environment to see what happens. The combination of the two is just as fun, and the intensity of Benevento's playing and arrangements comes through as his bandmates steer him and each other on to make something so moving and passionate. I dig it.

    (The compact disc for Invisible Lady is available from CD Universe. MP3's are available from

    Image Hosted by It's hard to say what people like about Portishead because I am not other people. Is it the haunted elegance of Beth Gibbons' voice? If so, it's a shame that a lot of people did not fully support the music she released under her own name. Or is it the instrumental films created by Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley? As anyone will tell you, it's about the perfect balance of both, with the musical side becoming as in-depth as a great soundtrack album, and Gibbons' voice taking on the emotions of the song deeper than anyone ever would or could. Third (Go! Discs/Mercury) has Portishead continuing on with eerie and trippy music that for some defies definition, but really has to do with setting yourself to their soundtrack and putting yourself in an altered state in order to appreciate it in full. What I like is that while one may know how the group looks, the music on Third is the kind where that doesn't matter. You make up the imagery in your head and allow the sounds to coat you in its spirit or drown you in its misery, whichever it feels like doing at any given time. One can find hip-hop, dub, and exotica origins throughout ("Nylon Smile" sounds like something one might hear at a Martin Denny listening party if someone poured LSD into the mai tai drinks), and perhaps unlock a few doors that aren't evident at first. It's definitely an audio movie, with the songs sounding good individually but you may have an epiphany or two as you piece everything together. It is an album that brings Portishead back into the forefront, where they always should be.

    (Third is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by Hearing The Brakes for the first time sounded like what would happen if Jack Johnson and Jeff Tweedy went to school together with Paul Simon or Glenn Tilbrook as their instructor. Tale Of Two Cities (Hyena) consists of really crafty rock where it's not just about saying smart things because they can, there's a bit of wit in what they do and it's nice to hear. "Supermarket" has a slight Boz Scaggs vibe to it and I'm not sure if it's because of the attitude in the music and playing or if comes through in the vocals of Zach Djanikian. They play music that is as tight and as loose as The Black Crowes, which means they make room to be improvisational if need be (as they show in "Big Money", "Who Am I To Be", and "Song Of Imponderables"). I was someone who never really got into Phish, but if I looked for a band that would give me a reason to drop all my worries and make me want to follow them from city to city on future summer tours, I'd probably end up bowing down to The Brakes. It's good, hearty rock with a touch of pop that isn't corny, but pop that isn't afraid to executve itself with the occasional smirk.

    (Tale Of Two Cities is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by The amount of artists and collaborators on Brian Culbertson's Bringing Back The Funk (GRP/Verve) was overwhelming and I wasn't sure what to expect. Was this an industry-forced album where a musician gathered a number of out-of-work, previously influential artiists and singers because of certain inside guilt-trips, or was there some some substance to this? A title like Bringing Back The Funk almost made me wonder if this was some goofy Broadway revival of sorts, where everyone comes out with jazz hands and says "hey, funk is back". I firmly believer that funk is still its own reward but people have abused it to the point where others have turned it into a lame late 70's stereotype. One is sure to say "stop with your commentary and give us your review", but this is my review, leading to the point I'm about to make.

    Culbertson is a multi-instrumentalist who studied his music through intense listening of records, in fact the cover art features a photo of him as a child with a big pair of headphones. I can relate. The music comes from his past, and it is very much a part of his heart and soul. He was given an opportunity to record with the best, and he went in for the kill by bringing on Maurice White, Bootsy Collins, Larry Graham, and Ronnie Laws among others. What you hear may be a throwback to the late 70's funk sound, but one that shows that it can still be as intense as it was because true music never dies. This is true on "The World Keeps Going Around", featuring Ledisi on vocals, a song I hope he will release as a single. There are moments on this album where it does sound too much like a Broadway show celebrating the death of what's good, and that's what I don't like, because the music is as alive as it was when I was listening to it in front of my dad's stereo. What keeps it alive is the spirit of the music and singing, and just having good songs. I could have done without Musiq Soulchild doing "Hollywood Swinging", I like Musiq and the song but it just didn't gel well with me here. What did work well was an update of Tower Of Power's "You Got To Funkifize" (from their great Bump City album), featuring Chance Howard in the vocal position.

    What I found interesting about Bringing Back The Funk was as I listened, I recognized certain sounds and would automatically think of the groups I grew up listening to, only to find out that some of my assumptions were correct. Some of the musicians who collaborated on this album with Culbertson include Larry Dunn, Ray Parker Jr., Maceo Parker, Tom Scott, and Bernie Worrell, people who had distinctive sounds and ways of playing. Occasionally the songs will feature a break or two from a drummer that goes back to the funk of 1967-1970, and that's when I get my case of chicken skin because they not only play that way, but that sound is captured to perfection. Bringing Back The Funk is a sound that never really died, and the title lead me to ask "where did people think funk went?" It's funk, soul, and jazz in all its glory, all of which lead to the hip-hop and R&B that we hear today. The title initially made me think that this was just an attempt by someone who thought he could save the day by shining the light back on an alleged dead genre, cue on Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" for maximum impact. After listening to it, he's not so much a savior as he is a participant of the continuation of the good grooves and funky vibes. Perhaps the celebratory feelings expressed is his way of saying "I told you all, this is far from dead."

    (Bringing Back The Funk is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by When it comes to the music of New Orleans, if it seems like there is an overwhelming amount of people that are called "legends", you're right. But music has been an essential part of the city's fabric for decades, and it's sad to think that a hurricane had to make people realize this. With that said, it was nice to see a new CD by soul and blues legend Walter "Wolfman" Washington. Washington recorded a string of singles on his own and played guitar for a wide range of people, some uncredited. It wasn't just soul or blues, but he also played with a number of gospel groups. His singing and playing got a lot of attention, and he had no fear, if he wanted to get down, he got down. If he wanted to give thanks and praise, he did that.

    On Doin' The Funky Thing (Zoho), he displays his skills as a guitarist, and he doesn't just groove and chicken scratch either. Washington is a mean guitarist who serves his band in whatever fashion, be it in, out, underneath, whatever, you can tell he comes from a long line of musicians who understands what it is to play music amongst others. His work is a powerhouse, check him in "Tweakin'", "Crescent City Starlights", or ""Just Like That", the latter written by bandmate John "Jack" Cruz (bass/vocals). Even though Washington has been there and done that, he sings with the strength of someone three times as young, and that same youthfulness still comes across in his guitar work, which doesn't get too show-offy or flamboyant, it's straight up blues with a bit of gutbucket. There's even a nice slow jam here in the form of "One Day From Being A Fool" that could easily be performed by everyone from Billy Paul to D'Angelo, if not David Coverdale or Jill Scott. It has that kind of heart that makes it possible for anyone and everyone to sing it, but to hear it from its author is what it's really all about, and the accents from keyboardist Judson Nielsen and the horn section are nice touches.

    Doin' The Funky Thing is authentic blues, soul, and funk brought into the 21st century by someone who thrilled audiences and record buyers in the 20th century, holding true to the traditions of the past by still creating and feeling it from the heart today. Thank you, Wolfman.

    (Doin' The Funky Thing will be released on June 10th through Zoho Roots.)

    Image Hosted by David Thorne Scott is a vocalist whose DYAD album celebrates his love of pop and jazz standards while incorporating new material as possible standards of tomorrow. The album features Mark Shilansky on piano and nothing more, an intimate setting of music perhaps made for intimate times. Anyone who is into piano/vocal albums will find this one to be of interest, with performances of "Rocky Mountain High", "A Simple Song", "Night's Affair With Day", and "When I Fall In Love". The best song on this would have to be a cover of Emmylou Harris' "Boulder To Birmingham", and Scott brings a unique twist to it and makes it work.

    I would be very interested in hearing more from Shilansky.

    (DYAD is available from CD Baby.)

    Image Hosted by Pascal Bokar is the kind of guitarist I could listen to throughout the day without ever getting bored. On Savannah Jazz Club he plays with the kind of style and class that brings to mind those classic Verve and A&M albums by Wes Montgomery, but moving forward to incorporate styles and techniques that bring to mind a number of different guitarists from the 70's and 80's.

    At the same time, he also brings a bit of his African roots home to jazz, and in many ways Savannah Jazz Club has all of the music coming full circle within itself. The introduction to "When Lights Are Low" sounds like something one could hear one one of the first three Osibisa albums, and then he and the group take off from there. Each of the songs sound like a journey, whether it's one that has reached its destination or one where the trip is about to begin, the flutes that occupy the melody in "Donna Lee" are a nice welcoming touch, and the vocals in "How High The Moon" (courtesy of Don & Alicia Cunningham) makes the album sound more like a live performance. One of the big reasons why the album sounds lovely is because it was recorded at Fantasy Recording Studio by Stephen Hart, so the album not only was recorded at a historic place but by someone who is a proven award winner, so it benefits Bokar's music and playing tremendously. It makes me wish an album like Savannah Jazz Club would get more notice and recognition, because I feel it's one of those albums that shows effort from everyone involved. With luck, curious jazz fans will be moved enough to want to know more.

    (Savannah Jazz Club is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by History either loves or hates the one-hit wonder, depending on how much you laugh at a VH-1 show about them. Arthur Brown was the frontman behind the 60's group The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown who freaked people out big time with their one and only giant hit, and one of the best songs of the 1960's, "Fire":

    What people may not realize that he has continued to make music in the 40 years since "Fire", creating intense music that ranges from rock to blues and folk. The craziness is long gone but those who have valued his music away from the heat of "Fire" have come to enjoy him as a singer and songwriter. His new album, The Voice Of Love (Zoho Roots), is credited as The Amazing World Of Arthur Brown, and it has him singing sounds that are very much in tune with a lot of what he has been singing about in the past. This time, hopefully people will give him and the songs and closer listen, especially songs with titles such as "Love Is The Spirit", "I Believe In You", "Shining Bright", "Devil's Grip", and "Kites", each of which sounds as intimate as something you'd hear at the park or at a low-key function, there's nothing extravagant here in terms of sound. All of the songs were recorded in analog, everything done straight to tape without going back to repair mistakes or add anything new. The musical side of things is due in part to musician Nick Pynn, who went out of his way to make sure that all of the instruments used were real, no electronic hybrids of any kind. Mix that up with the talent of Brown and you really have something quire remarkable.

    (The Voice Of Love will be released on June 10th through Zoho Roots.)

  • On a self-promotional note, the brand new edition of my Book's Music podcast is ready for downloading, listening, and absorbing. Digital broadcast #66 has a bit of Cinco de Mayo in it, but that doesn't mean that because the day is over with that you can't enjoy it. So enjoy.

    Click here to get your own player.

  • That is it for this week's Run-Off Groove. I had a few other albums up for review this week and while I could have waited and delayed the column even more, it will have to wait another week. Next week I will have reviews for music by Truth Universal, Kenny Carr, Rave Tesar Trio, Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron, Radius, Bob Claire, and Silveroot.

    If you have any music (vinyl and CD preferred), books, DVD's, or have bacon of the month memberships you'd like for me to check out, you can send me a message by contacting me through my MySpace page, where you will find music that I create under the name Crut. A new album will hopefully be released before the end of the year, so keep tabs of what I'm doing musically.

    Image Hosted by The Run-Off Groove, in conjunction with Shanachie Records, is giving you have a chance to win a copy of Spirits In The Material World: A Reggae Tribute To The Police, featuring new interpretations of classic Police songs by Horace Andy, Inner Circle, Junior Reid, Toots & The Maytals, The Wailing Souls, and even Joan Osborne. I reviewed the album in Run-Off Groove #190, and I think the album is worthy of many listens. Click the following link and enter right now:

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