Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #216

Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #216. I am John Book, and lately there has been some delays in getting this column out, primarily of my own doing. But you don't want to hear me complain, you want to read reviews that will hopefully move you to buy some new music right? Correct. Without further ado...

Download 25 FREE songs at eMusic.com!

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us What represents hip-hop? A lot of you probably have a mental list of what it is and what it isn't. Let me ask another question: what represents Hawaiian hip-hop? Do any of you know what Hawaiian hip-hop is? For Creed Chameleon, he knows what hip-hop is for it represents him, where he's from, and who he associates with. It's what he wakes up to, what he lives, and hopefully the second to last thing he says good night to. Creed, like many in the 808 State, is a representative, and with Siq Of Lazy (Siq) he continues with the path he began on previous efforts and takes it to the top, looking over and helping people reach his level. I'm not talking an egotistical "I am the supreme MC" level, but merely a level of quality rap music done by someone who knows how to write and communicate well.

Siq Of Lazy has Creed talking about life on the island of Oahu, from the parties he goes to, the friends that call him a friend, along with the struggles of the island that aren't promoted by the tourist industry. You might see beauty, you might see green mountains and blue oceans, but what you don't see are people who are working themselves to the bone simply to live. Just as Redman and Juvenile are known to get into the inside of their neighborhoods, Creed observes not only as a spectator but as someone who has been there. In tracks like "Perry And Price" (a reference to the two radio talk show hosts), "Hell", and "Much More To Say", Creed carries himself as if he's on a mission and he's not going to stop until he gets to his destination. It's unabashed and sounds like the kind of music that could easily be associated with the likes of Heltah Skeltah, Blackalicious, Company Flow, and Atmosphere, and if hip-hop is being thrown into the fire (as special guest Joe Dub talks about in "Radio Kill"), Creed and friends are ready to go in and save it.

Wit and humor, it's something that I look for and this can be appreciated by any hip-hop fan. Creed is very much a storyteller, while he could do abstract lyrics with ease, listeners can picture his tales vividly just as the best hip-hop has always been able to do. This is most evident in "Invisible", and with an instrumental produced by Slapp Symphony you're put into the metaphorical battlefield Creed describes, you're pretty much listening to an artist from the inside out. His brand of humor doesn't overshadow his abrasive side, his sarcasm doesn't dominate but is present if you follow his lines and verses, and the sentimental side is balanced with the challenges of reality. By doing this, he shows a human side that sometimes gets ignored in what hip-hop is supposed to represent. Creed Chameleon is one of many who have made Hawai'i's hip-hop scene what it is today, and Siq Of Lazy is the ambition of not only an MC with a talent to create powerful music, but a scene whose exposure to the rest of the world that is long overdue.

(Siq Of Lazy is available from UndergroundHipHop.com.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The big buzz album of September has no doubt been the return of Metallica. The band haven't gone anywhere, but anytime a band takes a break after a previous album and tour, people are curious as to whether or not they can return to the landscape and conquer any current bands that may have dominated. Let's face it, look at all of the bands who have come and gone in the last 27 years since Metallica, from the countless thrash and speed metal bands of the 80's to the alterna-trendoids of the 90's. Limp Bizkit? Pfftt. My Chemical Romance? Eh. The Jonas Brothers? Say what you want, but Metallica has little to no competition, which makes Death Magnetic (Warner Bros.) a wake up call to all bands. It's not about competition, it's about brother and sisterhood, all in the name of heavy metal.

For years, the Metallica tradition has been to open the album with a banger. Look at their history: "Hit The Lights", "Fight Fire With Fire", "Battery", "Enter Sandman", "Ain't My Bitch", "Fuel", "Frantic". For album number nine they do it with "That Was Just Your Life", beginning with those solemn guitars James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett are known for, with slight classical touches and a sense of doom. All of a sudden, the tempo picks up and you think you're comfortable and you know something is about to come. All of a sudden, Lars Ulrich locks in and the lords of thrash are back. It's also great to hear bassist Robert Trujillo on a full album, for his work has always one of the best elements of each artist he's worked with. But Metallica is now home, and he continues the heaviness once created by Cliff Burton and Jason Newsted. As for Hetfield, when you hear his vocal performance in "That Was Just Your Life", this is far from the same man who did "Trapped Under Ice", "Disposable Heroes", or even "Nothing Else Matters". While a lot of metal singers tend to lose their strength, he has managed to fine tune his voice and with age it sounds and feels perfect, or at least you know that voice and you know where it belongs.

Metallica wanted to work with Rick Rubin for this one, and while some have stated that Rubin is now the fall-back guy when artists aren't sure about which direction to go, anyone who has listened to Rubin over the years knows that's a bullshit concept. The Dixie Chicks certainly didn't need to fall-back on Rubin for musical security, but Rubin has a sense of what his artists should sound like because he treats them like musicians, the hype is left on the back porch. If anyone has to question what Metallica would sound like with Rubin, let's not forget that this was the guy who produced one of the greatest metal albums ever made, Slayer's Reign In Blood. Perhaps the union between Rubin and Metallica was inevitable, and for this album you get to hear a band get a bit more progressive in their approach (not unlike some of the hard rock and NWOBHM bands they all grew up listening to), not unlike early Judas Priest. The instrumental "Suicide & Redemption" has those qualities of becoming epic, including the spark of the lighter during the mellow guitar part, and never during the song's nine minute length does it lose its strength. Even with a few mellow tracks and the inevitable installment of "The Unforgiven" (part 3 in the series), when the band ends with "My Apocalypse" it truly sounds like they are playing as if it's the last five minutes on Earth, and everyone is in the mosh pit waiting for the annihilation to happen. Perhaps it's not so much about the internal feeling that the world sucks, but the reality that these guys are living the second half of their lives, still feeling youthful and strong but understanding what lies ahead in their (and our) own lives:

What makes me drift a litter bit closer
Dead man takes the steering wheel
What makes me know it’s time to cross over
Words you repeat until I feel

See through the skin the bones they all rattle
Future and past they disagree
Flesh falls away the bones they all shatter
I start to see the end in me
See the end in me…

Climb out of this skin
Hard explosive
Waiting for that pin
Violate, annihilate
A loser to my eyes
Obliterate, exterminate
At last accept, deny

Feel thy name as hell awakens
Destiny, Inhale the Fire

But we cross that line
Into the crypt
Total eclipse
Suffer unto my apocalypse!

Tyrants awaken my apocalypse!
Demon awaken my apocalypse!
Heaven awaken my apocalypse!
Suffer forever my apocalypse!

If for whatever reason this becomes the last Metallica album, this is the best way to go out of the world. Death Magnetic draws us in to the inevitable, something we can never escape. Musically, this feels more like 1988 than ...And Justice For All ever did, and anyone who has doubted these guys in the past will need to visit them once more. Metal ambassadors they are, and the world will be forever grateful for the impact they will make with this one.

(The CD of Death Magnetic is available through CD Universe. The 2LP (33rpm) and 5LP (45rpm)/CD editions can be ordered through Elusive Disc.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us A lot of people enjoy rock'n'roll with that rip roaring feeling, and if you have no idea what I just said, maybe you aren't familiar with such bands as The Romantics, The Hooters, or Rockpile. You get that feel on an album by The Mojomatics, a two man band who make the kind of music that makes you want to pump your fist for the hell of it.

Don't Pretend That You Know Me (Ghost) mixes up that powerful rock with a bit of pop craftsmanship, so you can hear some of that edginess that makes that kind of music so great, most notable the Cheap Trick-ish qualities of "Hole In My Heart". It reminds me of the revivalist rock that was the thing in the early 80's during the post-disco era. If this is a sign of what's to come, I hope The Mojomatics become one of the prime leaders of the 10's.

(Don't Pretend That You Know Me will be released on September 23rd, and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe and digitally through eMusic.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us With an album title like Never Trust The Chinese (Absolute Motion), I was prepared to bash these fuckers, but the group aren't hurtful and the rock-meets-old school electronic music vibe Mr. Meeble create on the album may please more than it will disgust. Get a grip.

If a group like Black Moth Super Rainbow were more pop accessible and radio friendly, they could easily sound like the guys in Mr. Meeble. A lot of the altered vocals, run through the robotic chambers, would easily be interpreted as T-Pain-like but what you hear is one of the original ways people manipulated their voices electronically. It may be used in a novel way, but these guys are no joke, not when people are comparing them to everyone from Radiohead to Massive Attack. Of course the real question is "does it?" It's emotional lyrics layered over ethereal sounds and occasionally funky beats, mixed in over down-tempo grooves and other things that are being created in the post-apocalyptic area of the world, like Tricky meets Rise Robots Rise with images of latex-clad women and men with glaucoma.

What I like about Never Trust The Chinese is that one tends to wait for the punchline, but you find yourself getting lost in the trippiness of the music and those words become a footnote for the picture at hand that is the music. One song may be jazzy with some early morning spoken word, another song may find itself deep inside the machine with no way of getting out of the pulses. Then with a song like "Dragonfly" it sounds like the kind of soultronica Jazzanova have turned into their own family recipe. It's an album that works because of the diversity, never once sacrificing one thing for another, and when you immerse yourself in what's going on... again, it's an album worthy to get lost in.

(Never Trust The Chinese is available from CDBaby and eMusic.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Wow. Just wow.

This review begins this way because I thought I would never come across something that sounds like dreck. Maybe I just don't get it. I like pop, I like spaghetti western soundtracks, I like stuff that sounds out of the norm, but it's as if someone tried to take the more accessible elements of Mr. Bungle and shopped it to FOX so it could be used in House or Bones. They're called Spindrift and sadly I just don't get it. The music made me fall asleep as it seemed like they are trying to create momentum, but the music never really got up to that level of excitement. Even if it was an album of ballads, I would have expected something to happen and it... just... didn't.

Let's make this album an immediate target. The guys in this band are fine musicians, they can play, there's decent vocals here too. But it's as if they're controlled by something that tells them to not take it past the level of mundane, as if they're not only holding back, but wanting to throw a cigarette into the gas tank. It's flatline for me. Someone please tell me these guys aren't that boring.

(The West will be released on November 11th.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Now this isn't boring.

When I reviewed Scarlett Johansson's debut album for Okayplayer, it seemed people couldn't tell if I was joking or if I was the one that was tone deaf. The one thing that people wanted to hear, outside of a voice that perhaps matched the face, was someone who was a delight to hear. Johansson was not the delight people wanted to fantasize about, so her album was shunned and it's a shame because I still feel it's one of the best albums of the year. I mention all of these things because if her album sounded the way Tim Yehezkely does with her band The Postmarks, Johansson would have been able to milk it big time.

Yehezkely has one of those delicate chanteuse-type voices where the listener is moved by the sensual tones, where it can be luxurious and haunting at the same time. The Postmarks, at least on By The Numbers (Unfiltered), enjoy making music that sounds like the kind of songs you'd find on thrift store soundtracks, bathing in its odd beauty and wanting to get nude to it as well. Imagine a St. Etienne if they were more about creating pretty pop music with slight folk touches, and you have The Postmarks, who also go out of their way to perform their covers completely unlike the originals. I'm listening to "Three Little Birds" with the cello and acoustic guitar, I'm hearing familiar lyrics and I had to look at the CD to be sure that it was the Bob Marley song (it is). The way these guys do it is to take songs to its most basic qualities, and built up. It almost comes off like the kind of music other artists would want to cover, even though you have to realize that it's The Postmarks who are doing the covering. David Crosby might truly cry in ecstasy after hearing their version of The Byrds's classic "Eight Miles High". When they reach the final song, the "Pinball Number Count" made famous by The Pointer Sisters for the famous cartoon that was shown during Sesame Street, it seems like a comfortable way to end the album: keep the power of the original low-key and yet the memory remembers the playfulness of the original when we first heard them. That also applies to each of the songs here, and by being able to link them and twist them to the theme they want to create and share, The Postmarks makes you wish you were there too, and in sound you are. A good cover version is just good, but it's great when someone flips it over and cleans the sheets. The Postmarks do that and in return shine a mirror on any and all musicians who should take that same kind of originality to make something that makes the familiar sound brand new. No doubt that originality will be something that they'll carry on with future releases.

(By The Numbers will be released on November 11th, but individual tracks are being made available for free through eMusic for a limited time.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us When you read the bio for Toni Jannotta's third album, Is It Magic?, it states that she is a "Bobby McFerrin wanna be". Red flag. You can cite all kinds of influences but never do you want to make people think you want to be anyone but yourself. Fortunately I kept that in mind as I listened to this jazz singer who carries herself with the kind of grace that, as someone who can shun vocal jazz in an instant. There are moments when it seems she can't reach certain notes (listen to her cover of Paul Desmond's "Take Five" or Madonna's "Borderline") but other times she goes at it smoothly and she sounds silky fresh. This is her third album, and despite some of the flaws I hear in her voice, at least it's not corrected with auto-tune, it's pure uncut Jannotta.

What I did prefer were the musicians who back her on this, including saxophonist Scheila Gonzalez (known for her work with DIVA and recently was part of Zappa Plays Zappa), bassist Pablo Motta, drummer Chris Wabich, and pianist Greg Gordon Smith, and even though she doesn't consider herself a musician, Jannotta does a great job playing the piano in "Ruthie's Themes". Together, the songs that do work are worthy of repeat listens. When Jannotta doesn't reach a certain note, it doesn't fail but it makes me wish she was capable of reaching that note. There are no wrong notes, but the vocals are guilty by association. She's no Janis Siegel, but if Jannotta ever reaches her level, watch out.

My favorite song on the album is a cover of Sting's "Fragile", I'd like to see her do more of that style of singing and arrangements.

(Is It Magic? is available through CDBaby and eMusic.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Kate Reid is a jazz singer whom I want to hear more of and from, but there may be a lot of people who are familiar with her work since she's played with many bands and has done session work since the mid-90's. It comes as a surprise that it has taken this long for someone like her to record an album under her own name, but if it was time that she needed in order to gain the confidence to do it, I'm glad she waited.

Sentimental Mood shows Reid at her best as a vocalist and pianist, and while a lot of people seem to compare every other jazz singer to Diana Krall, with Reid it fits, at least vocally as they both share that tone that make them seductive and enticing to hear. What I like about Reid is that she truly gets into the music, it's not just some random musician doing her little "doo daa dweedle dee" and going out to Starbucks, this is someone who understands the music inside and out. As a vocalist, she flirts with the music and has fun. As a musician, she unites with her band (including husband Steve Reid on trumpet, Ernie Watts on tenor sax, Steve Barnes on drums, Chris Conner on bass, and Roin Eschete on guitar) and becomes one with them, and they with her, it's a solid band that know how to create a mood, an aura, call it what you want but these musicians are great. In songs like "Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars", "Out Of This World", and "The Face I Love" one can hear a vocalist who gets a joy out of putting herself into the lyric, or at least it comes off that way. If it's a song with bluesy overtones, she gets melancholy and it feels real, as if she's tapping into something from her past. Or at least that's what comes from someone who knows and understands this music, it's not just wallpaper or carnival candy. Sentimental Mood may represent what you hear on the album, an old vibe brought back and dusted off for all to hear, but it's also a great example of how to do vocal jazz properly. There's no right or wrong, but with Reid it's proper. With luck, the confidence she had with this album will make her continue with her love of the craft. A job well done.

(Sentimental Mood is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Brass Bed don't mind being called "sunshiny California-style pop", and it's great because that's what they do on Midnight Matinee (self-released), an album that combines pop rock with twisted tales of the alterna-unknown.

Their love of pop comes in clear throughout the entire album, and they do it with an edginess that is familiar, but there's something different enough in it to make you want to hear more. "Olivia" has gut-wrenching guitar riffs that make it much more than a lovely love song, and "Killer Bees" has a slight Who feel (think "Happy Jack"). Some have compared their sound to that of the The Flaming Lips, and that makes sense since they both share eccentricities and tight music. How far Brass Bed will take it, I do not know but it seems there's a bit of smart ass-itude in their songs that will keep them bathing in their oochiness for years to come.

(Midnight Matinee is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Harry Scorzo's approach to jazz via the violin is similar to that of St├ęphane Grappelli or Dave Brubeck, in that they're renaissance man who know their place in the music and how to treat it with respect, not to mention fine musicians. Scorzo had mentioned in his blog that he sometimes feel out of place in today's world of musicians, but taking those old school skills and knowledge, he can only do what he knows how to do, and the results are far from being out of place.

Lazy Thursday (self-released) is different from his work with Vio-fonik, as this one leans a lot on jazz and we get a chance to see him play brilliantly alongside Chris Garcia (drums, Eddie Resto (bass), and Joe Rotondi (piano), especially in songs like "Brakes Are Bad" (a very appropriate title when you hear Scorzo's solo) and "La Venta", where he allows the music to breathe in order for it to feel his presence. For a listen to how Scorzo and his group play as a unit, listen to "Phat Rag", and phat it is as each member is blitzing everywhere, especially bassist Resto who seems to be dancing in and out of every line as Scorzo scatters around before going in towards the finish line.

Whether it's uptempo songs that test their skills or romantic ballads, Scorzo is a musician who shouldn't worry about relevancy. When you're capable of making good music, let the music speak for itself. Lazy Thursday is an album that deserves a wider release, and perhaps with enough recognition it will, but I hope Scorzo will continue to make music as long as his heart inspires him to do so.

(Lazy Thursday is available from CDBaby.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Flautist Marco Granados celebrates the music and influence of his homeland with the release of Music Of Venezuela (Soundbrush), and it shows that his heart and soul is in the right place.

Fans of Granados may be familiar with this title, as it was originally released with a different cover in 2007. Soundbrush has picked up on the album, given it a new cover, and it seems the label are ready to let people know what this guy has, and it's beyond talent. His music is rooted in the sounds of Venezuela, which not only includes the indigenous music of South America but also its share of European and American influences, and you get to hear that throughout this album in songs like "Confesion a las Estrellas", "La Encantadora", and "Recordando a Tila". For those who think the flute is stuck in the world of Herbie Mann and Bobbi Humphrey, you're probably not a fan of the flute to begin with. Granados plays the flute as if he was a guitarist, with the kind of finger movement and breath control that comes off a bit like John Coltrane or Al DiMeola in terms of fluidity. Listen to "Pa' Oriente Compay" and I dare you to keep up with his playing, it's no wonder his album was noticed by a jazz label.

It should be noted that Music Of Venezuela is not a jazz album in the purest/purist sense, but it will appeal to fans of freedom in their music. The flute may be an underrated instrument for some, but anyone fascinated by its sound and capabilities will know that it's much more than a toot here and there. This guy is an amazing musician, and as I reach deep into the metaphorical cliche bag, allow me to say that his playing and music will truly blow you away. Trust me, you're going to want to buy multiple copies of this so you can give it to friends. It would be interesting to see what would happen if he was able to do an album of Hawaiian music, to show the link between the islands and South America. Until then, a fascinating listen from start to finish, this is.

(Early pressings of Music Of Venezuela are still available on some websites. Soundbrush's pressing will be released on November 18th.)

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us With a name like Caw! Caw!, they're pretty much saying "we have a goofy ass name, now listen to us. Listen to Wait Outside (Slanty Shanty) and regardless if they call themselves Yoko Ono Chun or Donut Hogs, Caw! Caw! is a band you'll want to keep on listening throughout the duration of their career.

Their EP has the raw power that their hometown of Chicago is known for, unabashed rock with those bits of pop, new wave, and the unknown that helps give each artist their own identity. How to describe them? Their bio says they are a trio who were raised "in an ice cream cavern on a diet of hot chocolate, fried chicken, and ambrosia. And then give them guitars." In other words, their music is played in a momentous fashion, as if they know they want to create something of substance, and they're going to try a little bit of anything to make it happen. There's a trumpet at the end of "Organisms" that sounds so out of place and yet it fits with them, similar to hearing a Mariachi band in a punk song. They know how to crunch those guitars with volume, but still sound refined and aren't afraid to bust out a Neal Schon-ish guitar solo, courtesy of guitarist Steve Kozak. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Tim Tsurutani has one of those voices that you'll want to hear because for me, I found it fascinating that he's able to reach some of those high notes with ease, but still be able to belt it out as if he's screaming for someone to hug him. Can't help it if you consider yourself a band who enjoy playing "Earth songs". Fans of Sunny Day Real Estate, Engine Kid, Treepeople, Foo Fighters, and Sore Jackson will be buying Caw! Caw! T-shirts, or making their own in the backyard shed.

Let me end this review with a grand statement so they can use it in their bios, and I'm being honest about this. People enjoy asking themselves "what to become of music after Radiohead?" They aren't the beginning nor the end, but Caw! Caw! are definitely part of a very bright future.

There. Now buy the EP and hear the proof.

(Wait Outside is available directly from Slanty Shanty Records.)

  • On a self-promotional note, the brand new edition of the Book's Music podcast is here, #85 in the series:

  • I also have a new music blog over at FudgeFM, featuring the latest news, videos, and exclusive articles. Head there now:

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove. Up next week, reviews of new music by Lindsey Yung, Charmaine Clamor, Ransom, The James Moody & Hank Jones Quartet, and more. If you have music, DVD's, or books you'd like for me to review, send me a message through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact information.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #217.
  • Wednesday, September 3, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #215

    Welcome to The Run-Off Groove #215. I am John Book, shoots! Lots of music to review, so let's get to it.

    Download 25 FREE songs at eMusic.com!

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Wee were a group that didn't get a lot of attention, but once you listen to the reissue of their first and only album, you'll want to know why they didn't make it into the big time.

    You Can Fly On My Aeroplane (Asterisk/The Numero Group) is an album created by the mind and instincts of Norman Whiteside, a young man who loved music so much he stole money from his mom in order to get a bit of studio time. According to the liner notes, his hard work and determination would finally get him in the studio, where it was discovered he wanted to be a songwriter as well. Here was a maestro in the works, but the struggle to be heard also involved a struggle to survive and pay the rent. In the years he pushed himself as an artist and songwriter, he eventually found himself along a group of musicians that would end up creating one of Columbus, Ohio's greatest soul secrets, until now.

    Essentially a Whiteside solo album, You Can Fly On My Aeroplane is mid-70's soul at its finest: the enhancement of keyboards and synthesizers as the main instrument, a groove that can turn into a bit of improvisation, if you were a fan of Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire, Sly Stone, Ramsey Lewis, and some of CTI's soulful jazz during the same time period, you will eat this up as it touches on that thin line between meditative soul and the quiet storm. It's one of those private press albums one might take a chance on if finding it, but Whiteside and the guys behind the recording wanted to make this sound like nothing that ever came out of Columbus or the state of Ohio, and it is that good, with the kind of singing and arrangements that would make Shuggie Otis and Prince smile from ear to ear. Tracks like "I'm All Changed", "Fine Me, Love Me", and the title track all had the potential to be singles and even though Whiteside's own life was anything but a vacation, he looked to further himself in a field he loved so much. Whiteside's sweet falsetto voice is at time reminiscent of Johnny Wilder Jr. of Heatwave, but there is that Ohio connection between the two so perhaps there was something in the water.

    It is an album that is deserving of a second chance, and now with extensive liner notes and photos, it's a chance to move closer to the essence of a group whose time in the spotlight should have lasted a lot longer. This album is an extension of the shine.

    (You can Fly On My Aeroplane will be released on September 30th, and can be pre-ordered through Dusty Groove.)

    image hosted by ImageVenue.com Ava Logan is a jazz vocalist who swings and sways with such class that you want to take her home and make her breakfast, lunch, dinner and breakfast (thank you LL). Yet she originally didn't set herself to be a jazz singer, she was trained as a classical singer but she uses both elements to create So Many Stars (DivaVet Music). "Too Close For Comfort" is smooth but there's a bit of that little extra that shows she's not just someone who is well versed in jazz. "The Grass Is Greener", "At Last", and "The Best Thing For You" display her vocal range beautifully, and her band (Leon Joyce on drums, Larry Gray on bass, Larry Novak on piano, and producer Henry Johnson on guitar are perfect for each of her nuances and sudden surprises.

    The song selection is quite nice, but it would have been cool for her to sing a non-jazz song with a jazz arrangement, so it would show a bit more of her capabilities and extend the potential of the song. Of course that's adding a gripe to a singer and a CD that doesn't deserve it, and Logan is deserving of many listens.

    (So Many Stars is available from CDBaby.)

    image hosted by ImageVenue.com Bob Mover is a saxophonist and a singer, and in both he shows that he is a scholar and a gentlemen with the release of It Amazes Me (Zoho.) If you are into mellow balladeering and a sense of romance that will entice your wife or significant other, this is the perfect album for you. Mover sings 6 of the 10 songs on the album, and unfortunately his voice was not to my liking. That's not to say it's bad, because it isn't, but it's not the kind of style I enjoy listening to on a regular basis.

    How about the music? His sax work is great, especially in tracks like "(Tu Mi) Delirio)", "People Will Say We're In Love", and "Sometime Ago", and it makes me wish he either made this entire album instrumental, although I should say that the vocals are tastefully done (I just wouldn't want to put it on repeat).. For anyone who enjoys saxophone playing with definition and style, It Amazes Me couldn't be a more appropriate title. Other musicians on the album include Steve Williams (drums), Igor Butman (tenor sax), Reg Schwager (guitar), Kenny Barron (piano), and Dennis Irwin, and together they create the recipe for intense listening pleasures. I somehow have a funny feeling that when I least expect it, I'm going to hear a song on a radio and be totally blown away, only to follow with the voice of the radio host saying "that was the moving Bob Mover" and I'm going to say "oh snap!" Until then, I'm very happy with his sax work and I will not hesitate to listen to that side of his creativity.

    (It Amazes Me is available from CDBaby.)

    image hosted by ImageVenue.com The fact that the opening to Kelly Rossum's new album Family (612 Sides) sounds like a cross between a solemn funeral and a festival gathering may be intentional, as both can be viewed as celebrations of the past, the now, and the good things to come. The trumpet man is in top form on this album where he proudly states in the liner notes this recording was done live in one room with no overdubs. This is a jazz record. It feels like home, and it feels like something you'd experience in a jazz club before the eternal hour of 3am, and perhaps it's one and the same. The fact that it sounds so down home is due to the love of jazz that Rossum and his band mates share.

    Family is about his jazz family, his musician friends, and of course his immediately family, and the album's ten songs are a musical interpretation of what family means to him. The title track is a mellow piece from start to finish, welcoming the listener in for a seat and something from the fridge (which is nicely decorated in the CD booklet). The muted trumpet solo in the last third of the song feels like a tribute of sorts to New Orleans, and one can imagine the saints marching in, out, and back again in honor of those who have come and gone throughout the city's rich history. Chris Bates' bass work in this song can be felt, not only emotionally but literally, as it booms out of the speakers as if he's looking for your direct attention to him, Rossum, Bryan Nicholss (piano), and JT Bates (drums).

    The little Rachmaninoff intro to "Pure Imagination" is a nice touch for anyone who has taken Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory to heart, especially we music makers who continue to be the dreamers of the dream. Rossum and his band seem to dabble between playing it straightforward and the tendency to turn it into something almost avant-garde, or perhaps it's imagination and intellect in audio form. The child-like innocence continues with a warm cover of Joe Raposo's "Somebody Come And Play", known to millions of children (and children at heart) who watched Sesame Street religiously. Just as home can mean comfort, the guys get very comfortable in "If I Were A Bell", and there are times in the song where it feels as if they're playing independent of each other while being aware of what each other is doing. In other words it's loose, but it never gets to the point of chaos. Perhaps like our own families.

    The theme of Family is obvious, and whether it's with relatives or musicians with common interests, it's a sense of community that we look for and try to pass on. With his music, Rossum says no matter how far you travel, you can always come back to the embrace of those who love and support you from the start. One of the best jazz albums of 2008.

    (Family is available from CDBaby.)

    image hosted by ImageVenue.com Saxophonist Ralph Lalama has released a number of albums and has done session work with some of the best, from Joe Lovano to Mel Lewis. Energy Fields (Mighty Quinn) is an album with his quartet that features Joe Corsello (drums), Rick Petrone (bass) and John Hart (guitar). Immediately, one can hear how well each of them play, these aren't guys who rest. Songs like "The Moontrane", "Buzzy", "United", and "Indian Summer" carry the great spirit of jazz with incredible improvisation and musicianship that to me is top notch. The original composition "Nonchalant" is anything but, and what I like is hearing Lalama just go at it with such precision. Same can be said for his musicians, and these guys would probably sound powerful in a live setting.

    What's also great is the recording itself, done by Richard Corsello and produced by Jerry Roche. Corsello captures these guys very well, it's not too thin and it's obvious they're all in the same room together, so there's that added interaction that is essential to any jazz recording. Fans of Lovano, Charlie Mariano, and Phil Woods, along with hard bop enthusiasts, need this in their collection.

    (Energy Fields will be released on September 16th, and can be pre-ordered from CD Universe.)

    image hosted by ImageVenue.com Awhile back I reviewed these guys and their Latest Outlook, and what I heard was the kind of jazz I could listen to for hours on end. The Stryker/Slagle Band, fronted by guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Steve Slagle, have returned with The Scene (Zoho), and this time around they have the great Joe Lovano sit in for a few tracks (four in total). Along with Victor Lewis on drums and Jay Anderson on bass, this is one of those albums that you want to recommend to anyone, not only for fans who want to hear the best in jazz but the jaded collectors who feel jazz hasn't had that spirit since the mid to late 50's. You can tell your friend that he has almost five decades of music to catch up to, and maybe he can begin with The Scene.

    Eight of the album's nine songs are originals, with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Fingers In The Wind" being the exception. Stryker's guitar playing is not unlike Pat Martino, which I've probably said before but it's worth saying again, and there are times when he plays it like a Hammond organ, I had to look at the cover and credits to see if there was someone on the B-3. Nope. There are a number of guitar/saxophone collaborations in jazz, and with this album these guys balance each other out by doing deep into the song individually and then finding a meeting place to reach the finish line. Sometimes Slagel will play the lead melody while Stryker will play in harmony or a countermelody (as they do in the title track), or vice versa, or they'll take a different approach and make that work for them. I don't know if "heartiness" would be the right word to describe their music, but Slagel's playing has a heartiness that carries a lot of weight for me, and it's great to hear him grace each song and follow his path. Stryker is never far behind even during Slagel's solo, and it is in those times when you can concentrate on Stryker and Anderson creating something that comes off like a mantra, with Lewis hitting the cymbals almost like Elvin Jones or Roy Haynes.

    To put faith in an album seems like a foolish idea these days, but those who say that probably aren't listening to the right music, yet alone albums. The Scene is an album you can trust and is an album Zoho Music should be very proud of.

    (The Scene will be released on October 14th and can be pre-ordered through CD Universe.)

  • On a self-promotional note, two things of interest. First off, the Book's Music podcast. Listen:

  • Second off, please check out FudgeFM, a website I'm involved with. Music, news, videos, reviews, and much more. I will be adapting my Thrift Store Adventures into video very soon. You can read through my blog, featuring not only news and updates, but exclusive articles you're not going to find anywhere else, including the new Dust It Off series where I honor albums of the past.

  • That's it for this week's column. If you have music, DVD's, books, or hot sauce you'd like for me to review, get me through the ol' MySpace and I will pass along my contact information.

  • Thank you, and come back next week for #216.