There's a hate I have for starting the first paragraph in a review with the word "I", so I decided to come up with some gibberish before using it for the second paragraph. Here we are.
I have known of tREBLEFREE for a few years after communicating with him on an online music board, enjoying the few tracks I heard and always getting into decent conversations, usually about music. I've known about the album he had been putting together for the last few years, but it kept on being delayed and pushed back (sounds like a familiar story). Out of nowhere, he tells me that his album is done and he wants me to take a listen. I'm open.
The Return Of The Dirty Cymbals (mitc.) is a project six years in the making, with tREBLEFREE handling everything on the production side and letting his friends drop some fine lyrics. The people on this album include Ilwil, DVS, Plee and Donwill and these guys sound perfect on these tracks, which is a combination of the boom bap plus samples that are arranged incredibly well. My favorite part is the introduction in "313 To 310/510", the numbers of which represent where he lived for awhile (California) and the place he calls home (Detroit), where you hear various scratches over a beat, a sped up "Californiaaaaaa" sample and the inclusion of a familiar "one, two, AAAAAAH" and for me that's brilliant. Scorpeze drops a cool first like the old school trooper he is, sounding a bit like Lyrics Born meets Nice & Smooth. The album then goes into gear as DVS and Malakh El deliver their stories on how to be hard as fuck in "Tight Fit", and tREBLEFREE's chopped bass and guitar lines and drum loops fit perfectly. In fact, most of his productions are quite good because he knows his music and knows how to share that love of the records through careful digital manipulation.
If you read the last sentence carefully, some of you might be questioning the "most of his productions are quite good" part. Do I have a gripe? Only a small one, there's a sample in "313 To 310/510" that is done dry without a bassline and as the album's first proper song I thought the entire album would sound like that. I would have preferred to hear a bass within the song's last 30 seconds, but it might have been done that way to welcome people in to the funk that's to come. Producer, beat, and sample junkies will enjoy the work tREBLEFREE put into this, especially in tracks like "Innuendo", "I'm Writing", and my personal favorite, "Limelight" (I would have liked the intro beat stretched out for the entire song, but it's a nice tease to keep people listening), and as DJ Life scratches the wheels of fury in "Pardon My Favor" it helps give the album a nice mix tape vibe to it, a bridge between the first and second halves of the album (or a virtual Side 1 and Side 2).
Like Dilla, there's a soulfulness in tREBLEFREE's samples and beat production, so something is definitely in the water up there. Like Madlib, he can also become incredibly obscure with his style of production, where it isn't just simple beats and loops, it's a nice balance between familiarity and the unknown. Both drive each other to create an album that could easily measure up to anything on Stones Throw or Rhymesayers, and the guy better watch out or he'll be scooped up by a lot of MC's and singers there.
If you read the last sentence carefully, soem of you might be questioning the reference to "singers". It's that soulfulness in his productions that could open him up to being a producer for today's soul and R&B artists, and yet that lo-fi Madlib-type approach still keeps his foot in hip-hop, which is eternal. The title is perhaps an appropriate one, as it's a call to a return to the dirty qualities of late 80's/early 90's production with the openness of today. Maybe it's not a return, but more of a continuation of what's good. The 313 will forever be proud.
The cover art by Cristian Rios should also be highlighted. It looks like a developed pencil sketch of a man about to walk up a hill or mountain, while another man sits down cross legged in the distance. I'm not sure if Rios was in anyway influence by Burt Shonberg's artwork on Love's Out Here album, since it almost feels like Rios is answering back by saying "now it's time to create movement". The guy sitting down happens to be blue, like the Out Here guy. It probably has nothing to do with it, but I always enjoy seeing illustrations on hip-hop albums, as it takes away from a possible photograph and allows the listener to figure out how the painting refers to the music or album title. Either way, it works.
(The Return Of The Dirty Cymbals is available from Createspace.com.)
MakeUpBreakUp are a synth, techno-pop friendly duo who sound like someone made a mix tape of music by The Cure, Tears For Fears, Icicle Works, and New Order. It's not sure whether it wants to be new wave, electronic pop, or a collage of everything that's poppy and boppy. We Prefer Not To... (S.A.F.) is a short but decent 6-song EP that shows the power of the material and the strength in what a good collaboration can create. "Blame Game" and "Fall Into Her Love Trap" are my favorites, while they could easily play with people's emotions in "She's Always X Rated", where they talk about finding a woman who isn't herself until she's behind a camera, and are afraid to grasp the reality of the situation. (Perhaps a female reply could be performed to get a completely unexpected perspective).
It's good pop with a diverse wardrobe, and it seems these guys like to dress-up a lot, musically. Good thing.
(We Prefer Not To... is available directly from S.A.F. Records.)
Music For Art Exhibits could be a misleading title if you allow it to be, but for Soundscapegoat it might be about playing with the idea of what this music could be. The album is a unique exploration of synthesizers and electronics, and in an abstract sense they may be fitting at an art exhibit. If you are to take the concept on the surface, each song represents a different area of the exhibit with different textures and tones, each one sounding very different from the one that came before. Some of the pieces come off a bit repetitive at first, but allow the music to settle in and one will be able to find each section of the song unfolding and revealing new elements within the audio meditation. In fact, I would call this "music for a distracted meditation", in that one could easily chill and zone out but one might also get lost in some of the groups that could have easily be taken from a few German electronic music galleries.
Soundscapegoat is the one-man production of Peter Bartlein, whose work under the name Marys Brother I reviewed earlier this year in The Run-Off Groove #188. While the grooves are still here, you'll have to take it all in as a whole rather than a few bursts here in there. Even though each track sounds different and unique, there is something in them that unites it all as one piece. It reminds me some of the work by The ORB where each layer of sound turns into something that may be the start of hallucinatory visions.
(Music For Art Exhibits is available from CDBaby.)
Sausalito Summer (Jazz Vista) by Court Mast begins like a long lost ECM or CTI album, and it sounds like an introduction to one hell of an incredible album. It then leads into the second track, the title track, and sadly it's the start of a bumpy ride I wasn't ready to take when I started this journey.
Court Mast plays the trumpet and cornet, and at first the atmosphere he creates in "Gold Coast" is almost too good to be true, although perhaps I was expecting a bit more activity like that song. Instead it becomes a set of well played songs that border on pop standards and carefully crafted arrangements. "Marling Song" would sound perfect on a Dave Brubeck or Ramsey Lewis Trio album as Sam Grobe-Heintz's playing is superb, accented by a moving flute solo from Tim Wallace. At times it feels more like a group album than something that is meant to focus on Mast, or Mast almost comes off as a mere accompanist. The guy can play, but the other musicians get themselves in the door a bit more than the one who invited them in, and it works in that regard.
(Sausalito Summer is available from CDBaby.)
Mellow Red Rider rock your thing, then the Tom Fuller Band may be your ching. Abstract Man (Redcap/Mesa/Blue Moon/Fontana) is good ol' radio-friendly rock'n'roll that has a bit of punch to it but without being threatening.
Fuller and band would fit in along the likes of Tom Petty, John Mellencamp, Jellyfish, and Flaming Lips, and if that list sounds a bit confusing, things become quite clear when you hear songs like "Lollipop Guild", "Midnight Pass", "All I Ever Wanted", and their cover of "Air That I Breathe", and you know you want to show support for their brand of pop-friendly rock.
Not bad at all.
(Abstract Man is available from CDBaby.)
Salme Dalhstrom is an artist along the lines of Princess Superstar, Kelis, and M.I.A. but mixed in with the acid-tinged pulses of Stereo MC's, Chemical Brothers, and the electronic pulses that dominated the 90's. What she does is bring that feeling back and dress it up with some new clothes, and the end result is The Acid Cowgirl Audio Trade, an album that satisfies the itchy dance fiends who never want to return home even when the clubs are closed.
Her music sounds like the best vocal tracks on albums created by artists known for their instrumentals, in other words she makes her voice and lyrics and emphasis and in the end becomes someone willing to test pop fans with her digital prowess and sensuality. It's fun and you can't help but be satisfied by the party atmosphere she creates with walls of synths and well chosen breaks and loops. Many of these songs deserve to be released as singles and if they're not, I hope club DJ's will put them into heavy rotation.
(The Acid Cowgirl Audio Trade is available from CDBaby.)
Dylan Champagne is known to some as being one part of the math rock band One Step Shift. For a moment he is stepping out on his own to create something a bit more humble, and he's hoping his older fans will understand his ventures into acoustic folk pop. Or if anything, he knows they will understand the title of his album: New Equation (Broke In Oakland).
It sounds like the kind of music that can be played at any beach near a bonfire, when all that is required is an acoustic guitar, a tambourine, and the heart to sing out loud, or at least that's what "From Here To There" sounds like. "Junk Parts" sounds like Reaching Quiet singing over some 3/4 time signature as the pace of the song drives the lyrics home:
molecules whisper and memory fades
simple equations facilitate change
27 years just plotting escape
but i still can't scratch my way out of this maze
Every now and then the listener is able to get caught up in a collage of sound that seems out of place but help decorate the sound in its strange beauty. New Equation is as beautiful as it is strange, and after an initial listen I couldn't help but listen to it more and more.
(New Equation will be formally released on September 9th, and can be ordered from CDBaby.)
The relationship between vocal jazz and I has been a battle. I love jazz, but I approach vocal jazz apprehensively because sometimes it makes my morals bleed. In other words, I enjoy great singers but when a singer is below my personal standard, I cringe and wished "dentist jazz" didn't exist. Then there's Denise Donatelli.
Jazz vocalists can and will get lost in the crowd because everyone wants to celebrate in song, and very few are standouts in my opinion. But Donatelli is someone whom I could listen to all day and night. What Lies Within (Savant) is the perfect title, for she can lure you with a seductive cover photo but it's what lies within (nice one) that will make you want to know her and her voice. Imagine Diane Krall without the manly husky tones and you have someone who could easily become one of this generation's finest singers. She is smooth, sensual, and has a resilience that is almost hypnotic. I know, probably sounds like big journalistic words that are used to motivate people to buy CD's, but that's the point, I'm using these words to sey that this is a singer who needs to be heard because she can sing her ass off. Can I be any more blunt, Donatelli SINGS HER ASS OFF!
Now that I've offended two of you, let me talk to you about her music. The album has her recording a number of standards, finding herself as comfortable in balladry as she is in Brasilia., and with "Crystal Silence" she could easily find herself doing a bit of soulful electronica, as she has that vibe to her that shows she isn't just a "jazz singer". One of the albums best moments is in "Sails (Velas Icadas)" where she sings the last word in a verse and takes off in one direction while her band move into another in a different key. I love when artists do that, it gives off the effect of each of them moving in a different direction and after the solos they meet again in perfect harmony. Donatelli doesn't overuse her vibrato, it reminds me sometimes of the approach Miles Davis had with his trumpet. His trumpet was his voice, and he often spoke in a manner only his intended recipient is supposed to know. Donatelli's voice is that musical, she uses it as a fine instrument and it makes you want to cuddle with it.
Her versions of "I Love It When You Dance That Way", "This Lament", and "Beloved (Daahoud)" are most welcome. The musicians on here include Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums), Hamilton Price (bass), Bob Sheppard (soprano, alto & tenor saxes, flute and alto flute), Carl Saunders (trumpet, flugelhorn), Geoffrey Keezer (piano, marimba, vibraphone, percussion), Giovanna Clayton (cello), Alex Acuña (percussion), Carlos del Rosario (organ, tuned Viennese gong), and Peter Sprague (guitar), and together they have the right chemistry that sounds like some of the best jazz combos you can come up with. The musicians flirt musically Donatelli and she does the same in such a way that you can't help but laugh and enjoy the moment, maybe have a sip of wine in the afterglow. In truth, she has a gift that is not unlike Janis Siegel or Karin Plato, and I hope she continues her dedication to that gift for years to come.
(What Lies Within is available from CD Universe.)
Good jazz is a personal jazz, good sounding jazz gets me going. Michael Antonelli records an album with bassist Peter Nobile, drummer Tim Herrmann, and guitarist Kevin Golden, and as Michael's Jazz Quartet they offer one of those albums that makes you wish more people were this attentive to their music, regardless of genre. Woody-N-Me (self-released) is well played and well recorded, coming from a bunch of guys who have a true love for the music and how to play it. Antonelli is a saxophonist who is brilliant on his instrument, playing powerful melodies and improvising in a fashion that makes you want to stand up in front of your speakers and cheer, whether it's in "Waltz For Lefty", "Three Halves", or the brilliant opening track "Golden Opportunity". Guitarist Golden is a musician who stands out as a fine player and has that hand strumming style (think Wes Montgomery) that is gentle when it can be and brutally powerful at the most unexpected moments. Nobile and Herrmann are the perfect rhythm section, concentrating on their surroundings while at times almost playing their own game, as a duo and as individuals and it's fun to listen to. They maintain a solid platform during the ballads but when it's time to jam and go all out, it's almost as if they have their own agenda. That's often a trademark for me in many jazz rhythm section, and they are no exception.
The sound they were able to achieve with Woody-N-Me (engineered, mixed, and mastered by Tom Venable and produced by Antonelli himself) is also a standout, and it may come as a surprise that this was recorded at Antonelli's home, without effects or overdubs. If you know how Rudy Van Gelder worked at his home studio and what he was able to achieve with his knowledge of room dynamics, then perhaps it's not a surprise that Woody-N-Me sounds that good. Yes, I'm comparing this to an RVG recording, and in combination with the musicianship and songs chosen, this is an album that any jazz fan would be foolish to ignore. Seriously, buy five copies, keep one for yourself and let everyone know about your brand new musical discovery. You can thank me later.
(Woody-N-Me is available from CD Universe and CDBaby.)
I don't know how I would act if I found the Dap-Kings playing at any of the local/regional fairs (it is fair season, after all), nor would I know how people attending the Umatilla County Fair (formerly known as the Hermiston Dairy & Hog Show according to their website) or the Pendleton Round-Up would react, but anything is better than the Stop, Drop & Roll guys, although like them, the Dap-Tones are educational too.
Anyway, check Steinweiss's blog and see where he plans on eating next.