Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #210

Aloha, and welcome to the 210th edition of The Run-Off Groove, my column starring me. In truth, the stars are the music and the musicians involved, I'm just the middle man.

Before I start this, I would like to recommend a new website that I'm a part of, called FudgeFM. The website is a community of like-minded musicians, producers, DJ's, and fans getting into the discussion and celebration of music through forums, videos, streaming music, and more. I have a blog there and I plan to expand on it very soon with videos (my first ventures into doing online video). If you've been looking for healthy, unbiased discussion about hip-hop, funk, soul, jazz, electronic music, and whatever your muse leads you, FudgeFM is the place you can call home. This week you can read up on the current Rick Ro$$ controversy and what would happen if Miley Cyrus got funky. Membership is growing on a daily basis, so if you want to become a part of this new and growing community, head on over. I'll see you there.

Now, we begin.

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Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Shawn Livingston Moseley is a Hawai'i-based musician and producer who has done some incredible stuff through his label, 'Aumakua Records, and it allows him to make the kind of music he wants to hear. For this project, Moseley has created what he calls a "neo-classical" album of nothing but pieces done on the piano. Storm Before The Calm may be neo-classical but it doesn't sound like your stereotypical classical album you might hear on NPR, in fact Moseley plays with the kind of intensity one expects to hear on a solo piano album by Keith Jarrett. I'm not versed in classical so I can't tell you about how well these pieces measure up to respected compositions by the greats, but what I do hear is someone who plays with a passion and does it with a lot of power, even the delicate moments draw you in to wait (perhaps impatiently) for the next movement in the songs. The "neo" aspect to me is perhaps a way of saying that this isn't "traditional" classical, but it's not avant-garde or experimental, so don't expect Andrew Poppy or Satoko Fujii here.

I've heard some of his previous work so I'm a bit familiar with what he can do, and this is just a continuation of his musicianship. What I also liked was the sound he was able to get in these recordings, there's no technical information here so I don't know how it was mic'd, what types of mics he used or if it was one of those piano pickups you attach to the piano itself, but to me it's very audiophile worthy (as is the other albums Moseley has recorded and produced) and anyone who is into the sound of the piano and excellent playing will eat this up big time. I wish I understood classical music more than something on the surface, but as an outsider looking in, it sounds like something that everyone should listen to.

(The Storm Before The Calm is available from Mele.com.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Live jazz is what it's all about, and to hear an incredible set of musicians, look no further than Love, Peace & Jazz! (Jazz Eyes), the most essential elements in life as performed by the Al Foster Quartet.

When I first pressed play on this, I thought it was a bit of smooth jazz, locked in a corner with nowhere to go. Not wanting to bother with the bio, I just let it go and see where the music would take me, and about half way through "The Chief", things start to get interesting. Foster (drums, Eli Degibri (saxophones), Douglas Weiss (double bass), and Kevin Hays (piano) start to play as if they were a militia ready to go in, and it's like any other jazz album where you can sense that everyone is locked with each other, ready to move forward and beyond. Hearing these guys play Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama", Wayne Shorter's "ESP", and Miles Davis' "Blue In Green" is very much like meeting with an old family friend for the first time, but realizing that this kid has a new wardrobe and he wants to show how dapper he is. Wilson's drumming is top notch, I could compare him to countless people but hearing him will be all the proof one needs to know this guy can play, and more often than not the best bands are those lead by drummers.

Maybe all we need in life is love, peace, and jazz, and perhaps one day we can all live off of that fantastic diet. Until then, Foster and friends prove that in the end, love, peace, and jazz is all you need.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Off the top, let me tell you what Nostomania (Balanced) isn't. This album by DJ Brace, under the name of The Electric Nosehair Orchestra, is not a concept album. It's more like a beat or resume tape, where Brace shows off his skills and production techniques in a way that will hopefully lead to more projects from him.

I say this because the moment someone casually says "instrumental hip-hop", people want to say that it's the next DJ Shadow or RJD2. It's instrumental, it's very much hip-hop, but it's not trying to be too heady either. The music here shows his influences while showing off the skills he has to matter to today's audiences. Lots of beats and beat manipulation mixed in with the sample pool makes this an album for those who like to explore the borrowed sound way of life. Brace definitely has DJ skills too, which is nice since some DJ's like to make music but don't have the skills (good or bad) to back it up. He doesn't have to fear this. With all of the Dilla or 9th Wonder beat tapes that have circulated, people will (or at least should) find a liking to the Electric Nosehair Orchestra, as Brace follows a similar path. He is more than capable of creating something heady and anthemic, and perhaps that's in the cards for him.

(The Electric Nosehair Orchestra In Nostomania is available through Phonographique.com.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Scrapomatic are the kind of bluesy, rootsy, rocking, Americana band that should be bringing on throngs of fans to their feet. Put together elements of The Black Crowes, John Mayer, and Ben Harper and you have a slight picture of what Scrapomatic sound like. Sidewalk Caesars (Landslide) sounds like good ol' down home music, the type of music that sounds like home, the stuff you can always return to after long musical adventures. Vocalist Mike Mattison is known for his work with The Derek Trucks Band and in this setting he continues the kind of growls he is known for, and when he digs deep into the soul, you'll feel it as he does in "I Want The Truth" and the rocking "I Just Want To Hang Around". Guitarist Paul Olsen is, as they say, the truth, and he will be able to become the hero Richie Sambora never was.

What I love about Sidewalk Caesars is that it sounds like an album, not a random collection of 13 songs that are there just to be there. In other words, it's formatted brilliantly with a first song to welcome you in, moving to different places throughout the album, blessing you with a bit of the blues and solid rockers to get your adrenalin going, and closing with the sound of longing that makes you wish the album was a little longer. "Good Luck With Your Impossible Dream" is a bittersweet song that I could easily see John Mellencamp or Willie Nelson sing, the kind of song that will lead you to the bar in order to drink your miseries away, and I am certain that crowds will fall to their feet begging for more. That is also what will happen to anyone who has been hungry for a thirst quenching album. People, the drought is over.

(Sidewalk Caesars is available from HittinTheNote.com. and directly from Landslide Records.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Sometimes I look at a CD and go "oh no, not another fricken vocal jazz album" because sometimes it can be complete drek. I don't know what's worse, smooth jazz or awful vocal jazz. Yet for some reason I had a good feeling about this, or maybe it was just wishful thinking. Cynthia Felton is her name with a bright smile, cool blue dress riding up right there, and gloves that looks like she's going to go mountain biking, while standing on the shore. What would pull it off? Having a good voice. Verdict? Miss Felton has a great voice.

Afro Blue: The Music of Oscar Brown Jr. (Felton Entertainment) is an album by someone who could literally be in any musical genre, because upon listening to these songs, it's obvious she not only listens to a lot of music, but knows about different genres. In terms of jazz, she has a swing that can't be denied but she is very soulful so that she doesn't completely find herself locked in a box, making it possible for her to do anything and everything with her music. Normally I'm someone who doesn't like vocalized interpretations of well known instrumentals, I'm a picky elitist in that sense but hearing her do Coltrane's "Afro Blue" and Miles Davis' "All Blues" made me listen to these songs in a different way. She doesn't sound as if she's in a rush to finish, she's there for the duration and metaphorically caresses the lyrics and the music behind her (ooh!) and it just sounds nice. She can be subtle and when she belts it, she still doesn't go overboard. As I'm listening to her, she reminds me of what I'm not hearing in a lot of today's soul and R&B, and I mention this only because she has the kind of voice that was once common in soul music, to where someone had to come up with a new term to describe it. A younger generation listens to Jill Scott and thinks she's jazz, and yet Felton sings (at least on this album) jazz and could easily outdo anyone on the charts today. I'm sure if she did Rihanna's "Umbrella" people would be floored. At least that's the kind of grace I hear in Felton's voice, and there's not one song on this album I didn't like.

I'm not sure if she plans on doing more than jazz, and yet hearing her reminds me too of Natalie Cole, when all you need to know is the name and you could bank on something of quality. I'm sure for some the selling point for this album could be the musicianship of Patrice Rushen, Terri Lynn Carrington, Jeff "Tain" Watts, and Cyrus Chestnut, but I like the fact that Felton is a vocalist that has the potential to be a vocalist in her own right without the need to hype up great musicians. Sure, let that be the reason you want to hear, but listen and discover someone who could become one of the best vocalists of this generation, regardless of genre.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Musician Chris Schlarb released one of my favorite albums of 2007, Twilight and Ghost Stories (Asthmatic Kitty), a lengthy collage of various sounds that made him become someone I had to be on the lookout for. I received a CD by I Heart Lung called Interoceans, featuring a photo of water splashing on the shore of a beach (perhaps the beach Miss Felton was on in the review above {it's called journalistic continuity}). Opening the disc, I saw Schlarb's name on it and immediately I had to look at the song titles. Four songs? Yes, I'm into the endurance test when it comes to music, because it meant these songs were 5+ minutes in length:
Interoceans I (Upwelling)
Interoceans II (Overturning)
Interoceans III (Undercurrent)
Interoceans IV (Outspreading)

I was ready.

I Heart Lung is a collaborative effort between Schlarb and Tom Steck, who handles drums and percussion, and for this project they collaborated with Nels Cline, Lynn Johnston, Andrew Pompey, Kris Tiner, Aaron Ximm, Dave Easley, and Anthony Shadduck for something that is a very different animal than Schlarb's Twilight and Ghost Stories. This is more straightforward musically, although to say this is straightforward music would be a bit misleading, as the album is a great combination of jazz, progressive rock, and psychedelia, and the psychedelic aspsect merely comes from the musicians adding different sounds and textures at the most unpredictable moments. The initial listen is mindblowing, because while the album is divided into four distinct movements (making it easy to consume), you can listen to it as a whole. The arrangements, different time signatures, the addition of found sound from Ximm: it's great to hear an album that sounds like they had a plan when putting this together, yet has the kind of openneess that comes from musicians like them. It's safe to say that even if these musicians were to perform this live, it would lead to a world of completely different sounds. Interoceans captures a moment in time that will never be repeated, and while that sounds like a high mucky muck way to say "this is unique and special, a once in a lifetime event captured forever on CD", it's also a way to say that I really like this album and I hope people will listen to it for its originality and willingness to challenge themselves and potential listeners.

(Interoceans will be released in September through Asthmatic Kitty Records.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Reviewing and listening to as much music as I do, one can become easily jaded and forget that there's some good within the muck. Then there's an album like this. Jeff Hanson is a crafty pop singer/songwriter in the vein of Randy Newman and Dave Grohl and... yeah I know, I just compared Newman and Grohl, the former drummer of Scream. If you haven't paid attention to the Foo Fighters since their inception, perhaps you are missing on some incredible compositions from the man who almost killed Jack Black in The Pick Of Destiny.

But I'm moving way beyond my description of this album, and the album I speak of is Madam Owl, coming from the great folks at Kill Rock Stars. Hanson plays some wonderful songs that tell tells of wonderment, curiosity, and the human condition. "Your Only Son" could be about that Jesus Christ kid if he smoked weed and did luudes, while "Maryann" is about love lost and seeking to found her (and himself) again. These songs aren't just him, a guitar, and a thrift store picnic table, these songs are sometimes filled with a string section, Flugelhorn, and with the kind of little intricate things that made me realize that this guy is very serious about the craft of pop music, it's not just wasteful thinking. Then there's the voice. Imagine Green Gartside of Scritti Politti singing some Americana. When the CD first started playing, I felt it was unique that the album began with the voice of a woman and I was ready to look at the credits to see who it was. I was waiting for Hanson to begin until I realized that the voice I was hearing was Hanson. I had to reconfigure my mind (read "my mind"), stop the CD, and play it again. Repositioned, there's a hidden innocence that comes from hearing this with that voice, but within that innocence comes someone with a truly sweet voice that works in the most unusual way. It's not strange by any means, at least once you know the voice is coming from him, and it's one of those personal diary albums that you are always curious about when digging through a book store, and upon reading it you feel as if someone was reading your mind or you were comforted that someone felt as you do. It's an emotional album, one that delivers in a way an adventurous pop album only could. Hanson is the kind of artist Elton John would be praising if he knew about him. Hey guys, send Elton a CD.

(Madam Owl will be released on August 19th and can be pre-ordered through Kill Rock Stars).

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Seattle's Head Like A Kite combine electronic wizardry and alterna-rock to sound like a cross between the best elements of nine inch nails and Rise Robots Rise. There Is Loud Laughter Everywhere (Mush) could sound like every other electronic hybrid that's out there, but fortunately it doesn't, and outside of the great sounds they're able to create, they have songs that hold up beyond the audio surfaces heard.

In truth, Head Like A Kite is less of a "they" and more of a "he", in this case Dave Einmo, who utilizes a wide range of collaborators in the studio and onstage (not unlike Trent Reznor) to create these sonic hurricanes. I always hated when someone would say "I wish there was electronic music with balls", but it's to say that they enjoy the limitless creativity of electronic-based music but wish it had the grit of guitars, and that can be heard throughout the entire album. "Daydream Vacation"'s feminine presence could easily bring Head Like A Kite to a wider audience as it's perfect for massive radio airplay or television placement, while the twisted musical chops of "Six Bags Of Confetti" (going back and forth between modern rock and nice electronic bursts of funk) will challenge anyone who thinks they can just nod their head eternally in a repetitive manner. The title track would easily become a nice down-tempo or hip-hop track in the right hands, almost in the vein of RJD2 or Nobody, while "Keano's Couch" takes the vocoder back and makes robot rock rise again.

Head Like A Kite cannot be pinned down after hearing one, three, or even five songs, and the fact that the music goes everywhere shows me that Einmo is willing to do a lot of exploring, and I hope he continues moving in any and all directions, including those that are unknown.

  • My friends, this column is over, at least for this week. There's a growing pile of discs waiting to be heard, and I venture forward with more listening and analyzing on the way.

  • If you have music, DVD's, or books that you'd like for me to review, contact me through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact information. I also have a food blog so if you make any hot sauce or BBQ sauce and you want me to try it, send it along.

  • On another self-promotional note, don't forget to take a listen to my weekly podcast, called Book's Music, now up to #77:

  • Until then, go ride a bike. For real.

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