Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Run-Off Groove #188

  • Aloha and welcome to the 188th edition of The Run-Off Groove. I am John Book, welcome. First off, I'm not a color scheme guy, I'm lucky if my own clothes match. Seriously, I'm playing a bit with the color scheme of the blog page, and was wondering if anyone likes it. Not too fruity? Weak? Let me know. I like the feel a bit, but there's room for change, so let me know.

    Until then, it's my duty to let you know about some of the music you should be listening to, and as always we begin with a bit of hip-hop.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us To be able to hear a hip-hop album with the kind of attitude that doesn't sound like it was formed during yesterday's board meeting or is the fantasy of a high mucky-muck ad exec almost seems like a dream unfulfilled in the 21st century. But then I would be wrong, for the 21st century so far has provided rap fans with the kind of music worth waiting for. In an era when an advance leak can make or break an album two weeks before its official release, no one has to wait for release day. Because of this, new music is considered old a week after its release. Hip-hop music needs someone who is worth the anticipation, someone who you want to be able to see live because you know they'll rock it right. Peel it back, and reveal the wound. Nomi, DJ Deetalx, and BenZilla are the group known as Power Struggle, and they are the healers for a generation who are suffering from bullshit-itis. Hearts & Minds (self-released) is the album that will definitely be on my Best Of 2008 list at the end of the year, and I'll tell you why.

    Nomi is an MC, period. This is a guy who writes lyrics and stories very well, where you hear the guy and you're visualizing everything as accurate as he wants you to see them. He speaks about the youth and the troubles they face, and how regardless of your skin tone we have all struggled at one time or another, and for a lot of us we will always struggle due to the unseen powers that manipulate the game pieces. For Nomi, he also speaks from a Filipino perspective, and much of the music of Power Struggle is not about wanting worldwide Filipino dominance, but a need to find unity amongst one another and a sense of identity and strength within the system that doesn't know one olive skin from the other. He speaks on a social, political, and economic level, a demand for equality and respect. By touching on these themes, and doing lyrics that are direct and to the point, many will listen and be able to appreciate it from their point of view while understanding what it means to be a Filipino living in America. The first half of the album is called Hearts, and most of it is on that solid boom bap. There are moments when Nomi goes off in the same fashion as Slug does, where you'll hear a bit of humor but a lot of stories about pride and honor. The first half of the album is done by BenZilla, and it has that 90's flavor where everything sounds just right, with the kind of loops and samples that are there not for familiarity, but to capture the right feeling. It's musical communication between producer and MC, and songs like "Workers Will Win" and "Deporting The Pilgrim" are solid enough to be used as examples on how to make the right kind of rap songs. My favorite song during the first half of the album is "Komrades", which features DJ Todda, Geo Logic of Blue Scholars, I Self Divine, and Saico of Kasamas, where they take on the "one for all and all for one" philosophy and take it to a new level. The last part of the song, done in Tagalog, is one of the most deepest things I've heard in some time, and one can't help but be affected by it.

    The second half of the album, the Minds portion, is very much heady, a mindfuck, hell let's come up with every mental metaphor and place them in this paragraph and it will all fit. Instead of the traditional boom bap, the five tracks of the Minds section is more adventurous and experimental, not unlike Nomi's other project, Kill The Vultures. This part of the album was produced by DJ Deetalx, where abstract piano melodies are mixed with serious low-end frequencies, steel guitar samples, and at times rhythms that are close-to non-existent. If Hearts has an undeniable classic groove to it, Minds is the future of hip-hop, the moments slowly approaching to the inevitable "Lesson 6" where hip-hop continues on with the adventurous spirit that many forgot had ever existed. "Sometimes Rappin' Ain't Enough" begins with a distorted bass solo which could easily make things sound like a thrash metal orgy, but it is layered with a bossa nova beat and ends up sounding like the kind of progressive rock you like to listen to because you know one of those freaky albums has a funky sample. There's a few lines here where it sounds like he really went deep into that 3am zone, where somehow ones sense of clarity is crystal clear, where one can have an epiphany that will stick to you forever:

    In the meantime I celebrate every waking hour
    Playing wooden guitars and singing off-key hymns
    At what point did the liquor lose its sour
    To annoint the tension that tumbles within
    The women that I felt that left the next morning
    Ones that stayed and saved to keep the baby
    Late night laughs injected with serotonin
    Open homes when you're half way to crazy
    We are poor people, but we'll always have each other
    Pull our talent, and we'll always have a friend
    An old friend said when the revolution happens
    Will you rise or run, run, run...

    Suddenly, the struggles for community unity becomes a struggle for personal sanity, or as that Group Home song once said, it makes one want to bust but you have to maintain, to try to keep head above water when its too easy to to damage to others or ones self. It's the reality of know what you have and doing the best with it, even if you seek for the betterment of others. Deetalx's production is worthy in itself, as the search for the light described in Nomi's lyrics is accurately analyzed and heightened by his music.

    Nomi dedicates the album to all Filipino people in America and around the world, and says to the ones that have painted themselves any other color but their own in order to feel accepted, the door is always open for you to come back home. Hearts & Minds is an album about the soul of (a) people, the legacy of struggles from the homeland to new lands, and how power throughout the centuries have been misinterpreted by many as greed, when at times it's anything but. Those who have been silenced or ignored are often the ones with the loudest voices, and as a wordsmith Nomi is someone who speaks with volume, in volumes, in the same way Wise Intelligent, Chuck D., Brother J, KRS-One, and Gift Of Gab have done.

    (Hearts & Minds is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us How about this to promote yourself as an MC, to say that you are about to embark on your career by bringing your life experience, truth, emotion, and fun to music? How many rappers of the last 15 years can admit to not only saying this, but actually doing it? Very few. For some, life experience means "keeping it real", which is a part of being truthful, although the best storytellers are the ones who not only tell stories, but tell tales. Emotion, it seems anytime someone puts themselves into their music, it's seen as soft or "anything other than". Fun? Oh, that must mean the guy is group is a joke, right, because you can't keep it real if you're actually throwing jokes and making fun of yourself? Holy shit, what are people going to think of me? Cire Mayo is that guy who is admitting he can be truthful, fun, and still shed light on the life he has lived so far, without regret or a need to alter his delivery sound. The Succession (Listen Recovery) is very much the next level of hip-hop, specifically NYC hip-hop, which the moral hip-hop majority would like to say is dead and almost non-existent. Yet when you hear "Survive", you hear the kind of drum machines, piano, and synths that may bring to mind the classic sounds of Mobb Deep, Nas and Fat Joe, and I'm talking bloody chainsaw-era Fat Joe.

    What Cire Mayo does with it is bring everyone from the past into the picture, and let's everyone know that despite a bit of fear, just hand me the mic and I will get live, which he does for the duration of the album's 14 songs. While raised in California, Cire's flows goes back to the days of Freestyle Fellowship and Pharcyde where you showed respect for the East but spoke with a West Coast outlook. He handles the street level rhymes without fear or flaws, and yet knows how to offer up something with a touch of soul, as he does with "You Keep Tellin' Me", Add to that the fact that he has a major hand in the production, and you have someone who literally knows his music inside and out, and how to make it sound good. In "Thank You", he acknowledges the good and bad things in his life, those who made him the person and MC he is today:

    My family, my enemies, those who feed off my positive energy
    For saving my life when they were shooting, for each and everyone of you I'm rooting
    Whether or not we on the same page, I'm thankful for everyone who rocks the stage
    For those who came before me, for the ability to lyrically express my story
    I'm thankful for J-Wiz, I'm thankful for parents who took the time to raise their kids
    Thankful for hope and change, and when I don't have a dollar I still got some change

    It's something you don't hear in a marketplace where everyone is drunk and getting lost in the club, Cire basically says there is life out there and life is meant for living. There's a time and place for fun, and he talks about that too, but it seems he knows his position in life and wants to be able to be effective without wasting too much time. The Succession is more than just an effective title, it's an honest statement on what he is doing as the torch is passed on to him, acknowledgement of the continuation of rap music as an artform through his perspective.

    (The Succession is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 8bit electronic music has not swept the world over just yet, but Pixelh8 continues on with his cool lo-fi upgrades with a brand new album, The Boy With The Digital Heart (Hidden Youth). As he did with previous work, Pixelh8 takes all of those great sounds from 8bit video games and rather than just place well worn drum loops over video game themes, he takes those sounds and creates brand new songs, and the end result is beyond what anyone could imagine. In songs like "Meet Me In The Arcade", "We Cna All See Rainbows", and "Chocolate Milk", it's as if we entered 1985 instead of 2008, and those familiar sounds are flipped and turned inside out for modern day madness.

    On one hand, they sound like long lost video games from dreams long gone. On the other hand, those 8bit sounds continue to show its influence in modern day hip-hop and electronic music, partly because those Japanese programmers knew what they were doing way back when. Now, that technology can be created and recreated into new and interesting things, and Pixehl8 is an artist who proves you can make new from the old and still have it sound like the future.

    (The Boy With The Digital Heart is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The title of Marys Brother's album is Basic Circuitry, and the cover art features a legend about what the album is about ("basic circuitry from the vacuum tube to electric control circuits, including instructive experiments"). What is it about? It's about using electronics and using the best of the old and the new to create the electronic equivalent of a beat tape. It sounds like one of those long lost electronic albums of the late 70's and early 80's, with occasional hints of distorted beats and "found sound" thrown in for color and atmosphere. You could nod your head and gyrate to it, and perhaps it's best to do so, but this is one of those albums that you want to concentrate on in order for you to take it all in.

    Marys Brother is the creation of Peter Bartlein, and one can tell he put a lot of hard work and determination into creating this. With a total of 24 tracks, Basic Circuitry is the ingredient book for what can make a quality album, an electronic music album with depth and composition. "Robot Says What?" is a song that should get a lot of exposure, with its unique textures and voices before it moves into a pulsating groove and synth melody and a bit of that fwack with that metallic high end that might make all b-boys and b-girls twitch with delight. There's a moment in the song that sounds a bit like hearing raindrops underwater, which might sound impossible but not when it comes to audio composition. It then moves into "Doppler Shift", and a shift it is as you hear voices communication backwards in the evening as water and sounds from the Middle East come in, perhaps a war time melody, or maybe... a war crime melody.

    The main thing about the album is that it sounds fun, creative fun at that, one that isn't just thrown out there for the hell of it. There's a lot of nuggets and nugetre worth holding on to and peeling to reveal more juicy morsels, and perhaps with a bit of movement on your part you could continue on with the circuitry he has installed. Creative fun at that.

    (Basic Circuitry is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Who would think up a name like Lips & Ribs, and in truth, what does that exactly mean? With the Pacific Northwest you never know, especially with you see a cover of detached animal heads playced on hunky, oil bodybuilders. Is the musical muscle that masculine, or is it just someone fucking with your head? Perhaps the latter, but that's good.

    Call it elaborate electroniic hijinx, but if the title of Battle In Nagoya (self-released) sounds like an obscure Neo-Geo video game, then imagine if that video game had a soundtrack. This would be it, where things sound like one adventure leading into the next. But unlike some video game music, this has more of a human side which helps give this music its soul. You want to master each and every pattern in order to find new doors, in the hopes that a new adventure will lead to new music, and Lips & Ribs do just that. I wonder if they are able to enhance this further in a live setting. If this was something edible, this would be nuts.

    (Battle In Nagoya is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us For those who think rock is making a comeback, I salute you. Crispy and crungry aggressive rock has never left us, but one listen to the radio (that is for those who dare peak into the wasteland of the audio airwaves) and one wonders what kind of hellish world this is, with alleged rappers and celebrity "singers" making people believe that this is what good music is. Let's move to another spectrum. Imagine if Robert Smith of The Cure was the singer for The Buzzcocks, with oceans of distorted guitar clogging up the aural arteries. This is the brutal strength of Built By Snow's brand of pop punk, one that doesn't come off fake or lame, as they show on their self-titled 7-song EP, Noise.

    These guys do not sound like Nirvana, I want to say this right now, but what Nirvana did was spawn a lot of stupid bands who looked for them for fashion tips and heard their music as a way to be cool. Built By Snow's attitude on this EP show that it's not about cool, but rather about putting out some incredible music with a lot of passion without having to cater to the lowest common denominator. Considering how the industry game is a free for all, anything and everything is up for grabs, and what this band can grab for is a chance to be heard with their style of intense music that is up there with the likes of The Hives. It's ballsy, and while it might be a cliche in today's odd marketplace, it seems balls are necessary in 2008. Get to kicking.

    (Noise is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Hunters, Run! have been around for awhile, and their new album, Forgotten Souvenirs Of The Modern Age (Battle Standard Recordings) is a nice mixture of pop punk, with the vengeance needed and a lot of pop craft that makes it accessible.

    It has a good edge to it, with vocals that will bring to mind the best of Social Distortion, Husker Du, and to some degree Scream. But other than it being accessible and good, there wasn't much I could grab onto. The title track and "War During Lifetime" were alright, but things started to get a bit boring by the second half of the album, and I ran out of a need to hear more (although I did). I think the vocals were just "eh", while the music is the reason you want to become a believer. Maybe they should become 65daysofstatic and just do instrumentals.

    (Forgotten Souvenirs Of The Modern Age is available from .)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us I'm all about exploring the different worlds of jazz, and I enjoy it when someone takes it into their hands and comes up with something of value to me. I had a lot of hope for One Love (Flat Nine) by Taeko, a vocalist born and raised just outside of Kyoto, Japan and now living in the United States. I like her choice of songs and her passion to sing, but her accent is quite strong and at times it gets in the way of these songs. I'm talking about songs like "Dindi", "Trav'lin Light", "People Make The World Go Round" (done in a unique arrangement), and "It Could Happen To You", all of which has been a number of times by people over the years, but they lack the kind of power that these songs deserves. It's not the voice, I like the voice a lot, but I'd like to hear her more refined.

    Accents are normally not an issue, and perhaps if she had did these songs in Japanese I would have preferred them. She's no Monday Michiru or bird, that's for sure, but she does have something. I'd like to hear her again in a year or two, and perhaps that bit of something will come to the surface.

    (One Love is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The album cover is simple: an illustration of Richard Boulger playing the trumpet as his melodies become a part of the air, creating smoke within the city's skyscrapers, eyes shut and totally into what he's playing, all in shades of blue. It's simple, low key even, but after playing "The Eternal One", the song which opens Boulger's Blues Twilight (b-1 music), you may find yourself with your eyes closed and coming up with incredible visions for his music.

    One of his biggest influences on the trumpet is jazz legend Freddie Hubbard, and on the cover he says that he is very happy and honored to be a witness to a great trumpet player, and while that might seem like one buddy trying to help another, there's truth in being a witness to something great. Boulger's playing goes back to when jazz felt revolutionary, when players were going to war not with each other, but for the sake of keeping jazz music alive, that late 60's Blue Note vibe, or the kind of excitement Cannonball Adderley was presenting on his early 70's Capitol sides, but on the sax. What I hear is a musician who is easily one of the best trumpet players around, where you feel each emotion he plays and you want to go with him for the duration, especially in tracks like "For Souls Past", "Miss Sarah", and "Perceptions". This isn't smooth jazz, thank you, but rather someone who loves what he plays, the music he plays, and being able to do that with an incredible set of musicians, for this album they include Victor Jones (drums), Dennis Irwin (bass), David Schnitter (tenor and soprano saxes), Anthony Wonsey (piano), Kris Jensen (tenor sax, flute), and John Hicks (piano). There's a togetherness with these songs and how they are played, and how they relate to each other, how it all vibes the right way with Boulger edging each of them on and in turn they help him to get to where he need to be with each song. What also makes this album work extremely well is the engineering from John Roper, and by Boulger producing the sessions he was able to accurately put together the kind of music he hears and wants to display for everyone else to listen to. Much credit goes to Roper for his sharp ear and knowing how to place everything in the studio to create the kind of recording that should be submitted for a Grammy nomination next year, it is that good

    Mr. Hubbard calls Mr. Boulger's album "truly inspirational", and Boulger learned from the best. He takes on the lessons and craft that Hubbard taught him, and with the confidence in his playing, moves forward without waiting for a signal to go. Boulger has been on his way, keep an ear out for this guy or you'll miss great jazz for this generation.

    (Blues Twilight is available from CDBaby.)

  • That's it for this week's Run-Off Groove, and as always, there's a lot of music I didn't get to this week, but will within the next few weeks, so stay tuned. If there's music you'd like for me to listen to and review, contact me through my MySpace page.
  • Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #187

    Aloha, and welcome to the 187th edition of my column known as The Run-Off Groove. I am John Book, let's begin.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Y-Love hails from Brooklyn and some people say he's an avant-garde rapper, but his own MySpace page says he's into offering global hip hop. He does these things with the help of DJ Handler and Jake Break, and together they combine, social, cultural, and religious artifacts within their surroundings to offer up this avant-garde mix of global unity, one that takes on a spiritual path throughout the album, This Is Babylon (Modular Moods/Universal).

    The music Y-Love offers is definitely hip-hop, but not just hip-hop in the modern sense, but in a futuristic sense for those who want to brave the voyages of such people as Andre 3000, Blueprint, El-P, and Wise Intelligent. The first track had a slight Dirty South vibe to it, with loads of electronics, synths, and snaps going on, but the lyrics touch upon the lies told from the Pentagon, and how Y-Love is a lyrical paragon who loves running the rhyme marathon. On the surface, people might catch a groove and want to do some booty dances, but this is not booty music. With "Bump" the mood takes a complete 180 and you're hearing chopped samples that could have come from the Prince Paul archives as he's talking about seeing the world from a Hasidic perspective. Things go into different directions again with "Bring It On Down", which musically would sound perfect on a Missy Elliott or Black Eyed Peas album (primarily due to Jake Break's production), but Y-Love is dropping serious knowledge, the kind you wouldn't see on any television screen in a Hefty plastic bag. The music is the lure, but as you hear what he calls his mind-bending rhymes, you're hearing some intense wisdom from someone who is sure of his role as an MC by telling people "this is me, and I'm demanding to be heard."

    As far as "avant-garde" is concerned, it's very creative and there are sounds here you're not going to hear on mainstream hip-hop radio. Y-Love represents a side of hip-hop that likes to explore, both lyrically and flow-wise, because most rappers would just write, recite, and go home. Sometimes he gets into a dialogue which sounds like a street preacher, where it feels like he's just going off without care for tempo or song structure, but then he returns and proves everyone wrong. It is indeed Jewish hip-hop, represented by a face that one would not typically expect to see honoring the Jewish faith. But in the vast world of hip-hop, especially sides that never get noticed outside of the independent and underground scenes, Y-Love, DJ Handler, and Jake Break represent one style out of many. It's music for those who want to keep their heads nodding and bodies gyrating, but with intelligence and structure that looks to a higher power without being too overbearing or preachy. Those who have forgotten how deep rap music can get will need an aqualung to lurk in the depths of territories unvisited for years.

    (This Is Babylon will be released digitally in March, and will hit the streets in April. You can find out more by checking him out at his MySpace page.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us David Hahn is an experimental artist who likes to bring his years of guitar work into an electronic soundscape for unique twists with his music. Your Time Is Up is not a concept album but an album with a running theme, where the threat of the doomsday clock always looms above us and slowly it's making its way two minutes to midnight. At times it sounds like Roger Waters' Radio K.A.O.S., but instead the "four minutes and counting" countdown is real and it's moving at a sluggish pace, the fear of what's to come and what may be, if there is to be a "be". Hahn's metal riffs with a hint of folk stylings is the contradiction that exists throughout the album, maybe his way of describing good vs, evil, better vs, worse, or simply wanting to clash different moods for the hell of it. Hahn is verbally heard, sometimes speaking, sometimes as a robotic voice, so while the album's machine-like qualities are always present, there is always the presence of "something else" which helps make Your Time Is Up very dark and gloomy. The 8-minute "Mask Of Sanity" comes off as Hahn talking to himself, trying to prepare himself for the inevitable, but by the album's end it's hard to say if the inevitable happened, or if we as humans now exist on another planet in the distance. We don't know, it's open ended, and it works because you don't know. There's no closure to the theme, but there doesn't need to be.

    The album is one man's view of the world we live in and where we may be headed, and one can only hope that through his insight, people will force themselves to change for the betterment of everyone.

    (Your Time Is Up is available through CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The last I heard of Jeff Bujak, I had interpreted his music as jazz with electronic stylings. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to what he had to offer, and he now presents the world with a new effort called Building: An Arsenal (Lizardflag Recordings). For this one, the vibe here is electronic music with jazz stylings, not sure if he decided to switch his emphasis or I'm just hearing things differently, but what I like about this one is that he continues to explore with his music with a bit of minimalism involved, and trying to get through each song layer by layer, without worrying about reaching the end at a specific time.

    I say this because Bujak likes to explore things in-depth, meaning that while there are brief 44 second pieces on here ("Py" and "Vy" respectively), tracks like "Vacuous" are 11:11 in length, while "Sill" is 14:00 and "Crowd" is 12:16, while the album closes with three 9 minute songs in a row. Think of The ORB if they were into jazz, and some might read that and go "oh, so Bujak sounds like The Necks?" No, but instead you have a musician who is very sure of his playing style, and chooses to do so with electronic backdrops. "Muses" could easily find its way onto any new electronic album, some of the beats sound like something from the Future Sound Of London vaults with something that sounds like an electronic Melodica. Dare I say it, but as a whole this guy could easy give Moby a run for his money in terms of arrangements, musical depth, and concepts. He can create something with an abrasive edge, or as is the case with "Crowd" it sounds a bit like new age with a beat. Some of it sounds perfect for some kind of promotioal tourist package video, but then you sit down with the music a bit and start to hear his music in different ways. But away from the textures surrounding him, the focus is his piano playing, and Bujak is great to listen to. Not sure if he plans to tour for this one, but to be able to have a group of musicians who could duplicate this live would be a trip to listen and view. Job well done.

    (Building: An Arsenal will be released on February 2nd. For more information, click to the official Jeff Bujak home page.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us People throw the terms "pop music" and "pop star" around like it's a towel soaked in boil pus. No one wants to touch it for fear of the smell that will linger in the room. There's also the daring who think they know what pop music is, because it's a safe term to describe anything that is non-threatening. Yet after listening to Let Your Heart Break (self-released) by The Billie Burke Estate, one wants to call this one of the best pop albums made in the 21st century so far, because the songs are moving, charming, and irresistible, the type of music that one would never want to get out of their heads, but it's not "safe". Instead, it's the kind of pop music and craftsman ship that challenges the listener to listen deeper, to move, to be inspired and look at the world differently. It's not Cher's "Believe", but The Billie Burke Estate make you want to believe.

    The Estate in question is the brainchild of one man. That's right, Andy Liotta is the one-man genius behind The Billie Burke Estate, and forget who Billie Burke may or may not be or what Estate he's trying to be a part of, that's not the point. What is the point is this album, and these 12 songs that should be heard and bought by anyone who dares call themselves a musician. One can tell that Liotta is a passionate person who writes from the heart, and if there are any fears, hopes, and dreams, he puts them into words and music, and hearing it is, as the old song goes, pure pop for now people. "Perky Muscle Girl" is the song Todd Rundgren wished he had thought about, while "I Want U" is as powerful as it is surprising, as it switches mood and tempo about half way through. He tells believable stories, not quirky or "pages from a stoned out poet". It's bright but not sappy, bold but also multi-dimensional, and it comes from a diverse city like Seattle. Some are love songs, song are songs that may very well be lullabies for his children, some are child-like, others offer unique tales of life's path, perhaps coming through Liotta's previous experiences as being a member of Walrus and the almighty Smokin' Rhythm Prawns. Let Your Heart Break is an honest title representing an album full of honest songs by an artist who wishes to share his honesty with those who may want to hear... if not "pop music at its best", then just good music without fear. If you open up your heart, you may find a bit of this music already lurking there.

    (Let Your Heart Break is available through CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us The cover photo of Reed KD's debut album, The Ashes Bloom (Dirty Laundry) looks a bit like Neil Young's After The Gold Rush, a casual stroll on the sidewalk with a brickwall in the background. I'm not sure if that was his intention or inspiration, but after hearing this album, it seems After The Gold Rush and records by similar artists are definitely in his DNA.

    Reed KD's laid back vibe is reminiscent of the trademark California sound of the 70's, where the music is full of acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies, and stories about days never ending, evenings always mellow, and oceans forever flowing. It's a sound that is present among the likes of Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter, and for good reason: the music and songs hold up very well. On The Ashes Bloom he shows his skills as a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and engineer. Songs like "Empty Bottles", "Maybe By Morning", and "This Coastal Sound" all sound homemade, but professional sounding, the way Prince would have made his albums if he grew up on the West Coast. The guy doesn't come off as uptight in anyway, where if you walked past his place, he'd tell you to check out what he has growing in his backyard, listen to the new albums he recently acquired, or perhaps jam a bit in the backroom. If he feels like busting out the old electronic beat box for a song, he'll do that, as he does in "Roll Over", a song with some demands:

    Roll over, you've taken up too much from my side of the bed
    I shouldn't get more than half on a one night stand
    Believe me, it's not easy being so cheap
    I'll still be alone at the end of the week
    I've turned my back
    On love for good
    What's the use signing up for abuse
    When I can do that myself

    It's one of those "I'll make some hot dog fried rice and share it with my friends because that's all I have right now" type albums, and the stories are easy to relate to because we've all been through them before in some way or another. To be able to play, record and mix everything down is one thing, but to make the bold next step to share that, and have something people find worth hearing is hopefully worth the risk for Reed KD, because he succeeds in many ways. In fact, buy a bunch of copies to your best friends as gifts and see what they have to say, for this is the kind of them that should be getting massive airplay right now. It's casual, cool, and again, "laid back" in all the right ways, and with luck he'll become an artist recognized on a national level. The album was originally self-released in 2006 but will be released through Dirty Laundry Records this year. Don't wait another two years for it.

    (The Ashes Bloom is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us An avant-garde project originally commissioned by a radio station was rejected by the station itself, claiming that the piece was "new musicy", whatever that means. Instead, the creators decided to enhance and extend sections, and turn it into a full composition. The end result becomes the 4-part title track to An Innocent, Abroad (Pogus) by Al Margolis/If, Bwana.

    The 4-piece suite is explored as "An", "Innocent", "," (yes, the comma is the song title) and "Abroad", and what you hear is the primary voice of Lisa Barnard speaking almost in tongues as flautists Jacqueline Martelle and Jane Rigler play melodies in, within, and outside of each other, with everything put together electronically by Al Margolis. The extra sounds were based on the vocal track, some portions repeat themselves a few times throughout the 4 pieces, and then the voice suddenly changes. Then it speaks a completely different language, and what I found interesting is that with each flautist they put their imagination into the vocal tracks they were given and try to come up with a conversation of sorts. A lot of it may not make sense to the human ear, but it sounds great.

    The album ends with "Issue", which features just Barnard and Margolis alone in their own vices, and while not a part of the "An Innocent, Abroad" piece, it does come across as an exclamation point for the album as a whole. Barnard herself is a performance artist who has collaborated with some of the best musicians in experimental and avant-garde music, and if you are a fan of the work of Meredith Monk you may find Barnard's non-word text to be very moving, or simply put: using the voice as a true instrument or source of unpredictable sounds.

    (An Innocent, Abroad is available directly from Pogus Records.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Annea Lockwood is a composer who takes her time when it comes to putting together sounds. Thousand Year Dreaming/floating world (Pogus) is a great album featuring two of her pieces, each of which require some intense listening. "Thousand Year Dreaming" is divided into five pieces, and together they create an audio life fabric of sorts by tying together various cultural and musical styles. The first part, "breathing and dreaming", does indeed sound like the beginning of life. It could also be whales, or haunting ghosts in a chamber. The various musicians involved in the piece had a hand in the composition, and each play a role in each piece but a few of them also have the freedom to do a bit of improv at certain times. The full dream is also meant to be experienced in a live setting, as the musicians go into the crowd and have a bit of energetic feedback with each other. Sounds at times are bold and intricate, but it's what happens in between (the things that require close listening) that makes it special.

    "Floating World" is divided into three, and instead of music, it is a collage of natural sounds/field recordings, beginning with the sound of what sounds like an ocean or lake shore. Lockwood then weaves together the various sounds recorded and assembled by friends to reveal the life that may or may not have been hinted at with "Thousand Year Dreaming". While both pieces were written nine years apart, they can be linked if you wish to take it there, although both are distinct enough to where the listener can explore the sounds on their own time without comparing the two.

    (Thousand Year Dreaming/floating world is available directly from Pogus Records.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Classical guitarist David Starobin offers up his Family Album (Bridge) by looking at the role of family relationships through five compositions, including one original composition by David Starobin. There's a bit of tranquility in the way a classical guitar is played, as it creates emotion and passion that is unique to that style. One can hear this in the fantastic "Semi-Suite", a six-piece journey that might seem like part of the story, but works on its own. For those who aren't familiar with classical guitar, the style has been used in a lot of rock'n'roll in the late 60's and early 70's, most of which stayed true to the music. Pieces like "Semi-Suite, II: Aimless Air" and "Bailarin" could be gateway songs for further exploration, but what you will hear is a musician who plays with a lot of feeling and power. The subtle use of field recordings also move things at a steady pace. Reading the liner notes as the album goes along, you can almost sense the things Starobin tried to capture, and he pulls it off wonderfully.

    For guitarists who may want to experiment or know a little more about the recording, there's a good amount of technical information here to get them started and perhaps experiment and/or learn about this style of music and playing. While I am obviously not well versed in classical guitar, I like what I hear and it's the kind of stuff I enjoy searching and finding when I dig around for records.

    (Family Album: New Music With Guitar, Vol. 7 is available through CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Jason Kao Hwang has created music that could easily be called "cutting edge", or at least I like to call it that because he goes out of his way to take his music a few steps further each and every time, while others would just play the same thing over and over and cash in their checks. Hwang doesn't seem to want to take the high road, at least not yet. On Stories Before Within (Innova) he puts himself in combo mode, in this case his friends known as Edge, and it's the kind of improvisational jazz that keeps listeners on the edge of their metaphorical seat, with no signals or cues on where they plan to go next.

    Hwang and Edge (Andrew Drury-drums; Ken Filiano-bass, and Taylor Ho Bynum-cornet) look for reality and some of the dark things in life on this album, with tracks like "Cloud Call" and "Embers" being full of anticipation, anxiety, and at least with the opening notes of "Embers", sorrow. The musicians do it in a manner where you hear everything stripped down to its core, nothing hidden behind walls of noise. They will occasionally break down and you'll hear one musician singled out over the other, which often comes at the most unexpected times. "Third Sight" seems to not only hint at the cultural qualities of New York City, but perhaps Hwang's own Chinese heritage, perhaps being heard as a clash of two worlds, two different ideas, two different mentalities. The songs are more or less observations, one man's new view of old life experiences as they become his own. The album mixes jazz and classical quite well, where jazz fans can easily hear him in the same way one might hear Jean Luc Ponty, or in more in-depth compositions that challenge the listener to feel and sense what he's trying to say.

    Stories Before Within holds everything together very well, and by the time the album enters its last few minutes, you wish you could hear Hwang and Edge play just a little more before its eventual end. It captures the feeling of someone looking for better when given a set of circumstances that is anything but splendid, and the light at the end of the tunnel is one of optimism, which sounds as good as it reads. Anyone who claims that music has lost its heart and soul has not heard Jason Kao Hwang.. This is a good place to start.

    (Stories Before Within is available directly from Innova.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us There are female jazz vocalists a plenty, all dabbling into various genres to show their techniques and elegance, and Roslyn Kind is one of many, but is she worthy of repeated listens? I had to find out.

    Come What May (Right Kind Music) was originally released in 1994 and is being reissued 14 years later, I believe with new artwork. With Broadway musicals and American Idol capturing the nation's attention in the last few years, at times it feels people want to return to a time when singers were actually singing, and not wailing like a dog on a full moon. Kind goes back to that and brings it into modern times with renditions of "The Man That Got Away", "How Do You Keep The Music Playing?", "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", and my favorite track, the opening song "Perfect". The mood is intimate and cozy, and you hear someone who has a craft for the music that she loves. Repeated listens? Indeed. (As a sidenote, it wasn't until I wrote the last words to this review did I discover that Kind is Barbra Streisand's sister.)

    (Come What May is available through CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Initially described as as a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, Freda Payne's Live In Concert (Band Of Gold) is really a look back at the rich, musical career of Miss Payne. Most may not realize that before "Band Of Gold", Payne was a jazz vocalist signed to Impulse Records, and a singer who was showing her influences and vocal range with an incredible choice of material. Live In Concert covers not only Ella's jazz roots but Miss Payne's as well, and it sounds great. Those who are only familiar with "Band Of Gold" will really enjoy hearing this, and the big hit is performed here. Believe it or not, she sounds as youthful as she did back in 1970,

    As for vocal strength, Payne has never lost her touch, and in this recording she even does an Ella impersonation which will blow away a lot of hardcore jazz fans. As the saying goes, give respect when respect is due, and for Payne it is long overdue. While the general population may consider her a "mere" one-hit wonder, her music and voice have always showed that she is much more than that, which is why so many people have cared for her for five decades. Judging from the youthful photos of the modern day Payne, she's not about to rest just yet.

    (Live In Concert is available through CDBaby.)

    ...AND NOW SOME STUFFS (a/k/a NEWS):

  • Braille's forthcoming album, The IV Edition, will be released on April 15th. The new one will have better and greater distribution, which means that you'll be able to find it at your local shindigs or local online merchants of choice. Braille also plans on touring this year and he's bringing his family, so if you plan on seeing him on the road, don't be afraid to say hello to the wife and their daughter. They will also be blogging their adventures, which you can read by clicking here. Lots of good stuff happening for him and the HipHopIsMusic collective, and very soon you will also hear the collaboration him and I did, the appropriately titled "I Feel".

  • The MuAmin Collective are up for a Free Times Music Award (in the hip-hop category), and you can vote for them to help push them to the top. Click here for more information.

  • Obese Records have just signed Australia's Spit Syndicate, offering the world a chance to hear hip-hop from the land down under. The forthcoming album, Towards The Light, will feature production from a wide range of Australian hip-hop producers, including M-Phazes, Suffa of (Hilltop Hoods), Jase and Fame. The album is due out during the first half of 2008.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
  • Ubiquity Records is still very much in the vinyl game (YES!), and we're talking that good ol' funk 45 game. In this case it's for the group The Lions and their new single, "Uncle Struttin'"/"Ethio-Steppers (Wilderstyle Dub"), and this has a cherished non-LP B-side. The songs are described as a mixture of reggae, dub, and African good life. Only 1000 copies of this 45 are being made, and after that you can find it through collector's circles. Buy in triplicate, which you can do directly through Ubiquity.

  • No Kids are getting a slow buzz these days, if you've been curious about their sound, you can download this free MP3 called "The Beaches All Closed". The song is taken from their forthcoming album on Tomlab called Come Into My House, due out on February 19th, so give them body.

  • The band Frog Eyes recently completed work on their first video, for the song "Idle Songs". You can take a look at it by heading over to YouTube.

  • A. Pinks recently did an update of a Trina/Ludacris track, is it amazing? Find out, as the MP3 can be found here.

  • Kidz In The Hall are about to come out with a brand new album, The In Crowd, and as a sneak preview they're allowing fans to hear the first single from it, "Drivin' Down The Block (Low End Theory)". Click here for a listen.

  • The Alchemist did a track with Metafore called "I'm A Beast", you can hear the results by clicking here.

  • Def Jux are active and are about to five Dizzee Rascal's Maths+English a formal release on April 29th, this time including two brand new studio tracks ("G.H.E.T.T.O." and "Driving") and an El-P remix of "Where Da G's".

  • Consequence has a new video out now featuring Kanye West, called "The Good, The Bad, The Ugly". You can view this by heading over to YouTube.

  • The great folks at Daptone Records have been known for their brand of soul, funk, Latin, and African music, all newly recorded. But after having a lot of success in recent years, they're now expanding with a reissue division, Ever-Soul. Judging from the first release, a 45 by Hank "Soulman" Mullen (no relation to Soulman from Philly), it seems Ever-Soul will be the place for the funky and obscure, which is how vinyl junkies like it best. You can pre-order your copies directly from Daptone.

  • For those of you who have home or professional studios and you have an analog setup, the folks at US Recording Media are about to get a new shipment of 1/4" open reel tapes. Most of the United States is as cold as flock and floosh, and rather than download porn, you should get into your shacks and make some music.

  • Speaking of recording, if you are a producer, engineer, or musician, you'll want to mark June 6-8th on your calendars so you can plan a trip to New Orleans for this year's Potluck Audio Conference 2008 (PotluckCon). This is the convention formerly known as TapeOpCon, and there will be many panels and workshops, along with a live recording and mastering studio so you can take your music there and have it professionally done or learn a few things or two. Registration for the conference and special hotel rates are now open.

  • If you have your own recording setup at home or have a professional studio, and are looking for people to "talk shop" with, I highly recommend the magazine known as TapeOp. Each issue features technical information, and interviews with producers, engineers, musicians, and those who create the circuitry. There are also equipment and music reviews, so if you need to tweak your current project and every other magazine hasn't moved you in the right direction, TapeOp may be able to give you the push you need. Their website also has a forum, so you can inquire in real time.

  • Users of Sony Sound Force 9 will be happy to know that the Sound Force 9.0d update is available. Click here for more information.

  • Is there more? For now, that's it for this week's edition of The Run-Off Groove, and as always, there's more I didn't get to. Return next week and we'll do this all over again.

  • If you have music, books, or DVD's you'd like for me to review, you can contact me through my MySpace page.
  • Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #186

    Aloha, and welcome to the 186th edition of my column known as The Run-Off Groove. I am John Book, welcome to the show. This week is not as jam packed as last week's column, but reviews we have nonetheless. The hip-hop quota was not met this week, and since I received Joe Budden's new project yesterday, it wasn't enough time for me to do a review here, but next week for sure. Okay, let's begin.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us 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.)


  • Unified Product Distribution (UPD) are a company that are looking for underground and independent artists to work with for distribution in the modern era, which includes getting it into stores, ringtones, street teaming. This will definitely be helpful for those who aren't sure where to start but have the budget to do so. For more information, head over to UPD Online, or send an e-mail to 545@updonline.com and use the promo code JUDGEONE in the e-mail subject line. This is information courtesy of Dj Judge Mental, so thank him first and foremost.

  • EM Records in Japan are coming out with two brand new reissues:

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
    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.

  • Flevans will be coming to the U.S. for a tour this Spring, in support of the Unfabulous album on Jack To Phono. The dates are currently being put together right now, but here are the first batch so far:

    April 24... Cabo, Blacksburg, Virginia
    April 25... Metro!, Roanoke, Virginia
    April 26... Eighteenth Street Lounge, Washington, DC

  • As if the guys in Atmosphere aren't busy enough, they just finished up a brand new album called When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, due out on April 22nd courtesy of the good folks at Rhymesayers. In an interesting move, promo copies will not be made available, due to the "advance leaks" that are put out by people. I understand the need for this, and the only way journalists will be able to hear the album is if they live in New York City or Los Angeles, which of course leaves me out unless someone wants to give me a round trip ticket to Los Angeles on February 6th. Since that won't happen...

    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.

  • If you don't know or aren't aware of King Megatrip, you should be. Head on over to his new Blogspot and see what kind of new mixes and interesting things he throws up there.

  • John Legend fans will have to brave entering Target to buy his brand new CD, Live from Philadelphia, released today. This live CD is exclusive to Target, so head in there and check it out, or of course you can go to Target.com and order online. Here is the track listing:

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Do You Wanna Ride
    Let's Get Lifted
    (Still) Number 1
    Save Room
    Where is the Love (featuring Corinne Bailey Rae)
    I Can Change
    I Want You (She's So Heavy)
    Slow Dance
    Dance to the Music
    PDA/Feel Like Making Love
    Used to Love U
    Ordinary People
    Coming Home
    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.

  • Steven Bernstein continues with his Diaspora series of albums with the fourth installment, called Diaspora Suite. The album will be released by Tzadik. The album features Jeff Cressman (trombone), Peter Apfelbaum (tenor saxophone and flute), Ben Goldberg (clarinets), Nels Cline (guitar), John Schott (guitar), Will Bernard (guitars), Devin Hoff (bass), Josh Jones (drums and percussion) and Scott Amendola (drums and percussion).

    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


  • The 48th edition of the Book's Music digital broadcast is up and ready for listening. Click here for a listen. You can stream it from the site or download it to your digital player of choice.

  • Busters, I think that's it for this week. As always, there were still a few releases I was not able to get to this week, which will give you a reason to come back next time.

  • If you have music that you'd like for me to review, send me a message through my MySpace page and I'll pass along my contact information. CD's and vinyl preferred.
  • Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    The Run-Off Groove #185

  • Aloha, and welcome to the first edition of The Run-Off Groove of 2008, #185 in the series. I am John Book, and I'm glad to be back after a two week break. It allowed me a little more time to hear the music and review them so I'm about to to that. For those of you who are coming to this column for the first time, I review a wide range of music, which touches on the music I listen to and enjoy on a regular basis. Originally the column was hip-hop based, as the website it was on wanted to have some hip-hop coverage. I slowly turned it into a column which I felt was a better representative of all the music I listen to, and my tastes go all over the place. The format of the column is generally this: I begin with reviews of the latest hip-hop albums. Some weeks I'll have three or four, other weeks I'll have one, maybe none. The column then moves "outside of the hip-hop realm", and it is there that I cover everything from punk to country, experimental/avant-garde to jazz, folk to electronica. Every now and then I like to hype some of my own projects, as I create music under the name Crut or have my own podcast where I go into my collection and share the goods with listeners. This year I also hope to expand and complete some book projects. However, this isn't my bulletin board, you can read up about any current activities by heading to my MySpace page.

  • The Run-Off Groove is the end of the record where the needle goes. It is those numbers in the matrix part of the record that has the prime information about that particular record, the extras that only a select few know about. I'd like for this column to be that semi-secret spot for the select few. I'm a firm supporter of music formats, even as the mainstream reports that CD's are at an all time low. Buying records and tapes is how I grew up listening and learning about music, and of course I did embrace the compact disc. While I'm not a firm supporter of MP3's as a listenable format, I am in support of the lossless formats that are widely available, and in future installments of this column I hope to be able to get into what I hope will be a bright future for recorded music as a whole. I salute the old and dead formats, because it's a part of musical history as well, the trail that leads to an incredible library of sound. I offer links for you, the reader, to order these albums if you wish to listen further. Of course, I'm not a complete stubborn ass so whenever possible, there are also links to where you can purchased these as MP3's. Read, show support, and listen to the music. Here are some albums that may be worth spending your money on this week.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Hip-hop has a beginning, and despite the naysayers, the music and community are far from dead. According to Malicious, music started somewhere too and in his case, Music Stars With M (OdoubleF).

    The thing about rap music is that when someone asks about what's good, you can't just offer five suggestions and go. People want specifics, and the more specific they get, sometimes the further away it gets from what they originally were searching for. Malicious offers the kind of music that people have been looking for for years, and continue to look for because of one simple aspect: a skill in spitting lyrics. Yes my friends, we have a lyricist here, and not just a casually thrown out tag just because he speaks over music, I'm talking about a pride in wordology, a talent in verses, a... yeah, this is that cat you thought would be left in hiding somewhere in the back of the demolished record store. No.

    On this 18-track album, Malicious (or Mr. Malish to some) proves again that when it comes to proving that you have what it takes to be an MC, you don't need to costumes or endorsement deals. What you need is intelligence and a knowledge of how to structure songs. Song titles like "Yuk", "Breakfast", "Now", "Reign", "Pimp", "Gameday" and "Walk Alone" seem very basic from the outside, with primarily one or two word titles (two tracks have three words). That gift of gab that fans are hungry for are to be found inside, with such tentative gems as The use of my language is labeled outlandish/Devour tracks whether I'm full or I'm famished/Each grip can eclipsed one verse and you banish/Faster than Jared and a Subway sandwich ("Top 3").

    For anyone who is a fan of true rappers, and not just people who speak because they can, this is an album worth investigating. Musically he covers a lot of ground, where tracks might band like M.O.P., have sped up samples in the vein of Kanye West, shades of the South and the West, there is truly something here for any and all tastes. Malicious also had a hand in most of the production, so this is someone who know what's he want out of his music and knows how to execute a great performance. In fact, as I listened to the album a number of times, I can already sense that he knows how to rock a crowd, make great jams, and how to move his music to an anthemic level. This is that MC you've been waiting for.

    (Music Starts With M is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Witchdoctor is part of the ATL massive known as The Dungeon Family, which has featured some of the best MC's out of Atlanta. Wtichdoctor has been around for a long time but has not had the attention he deserves. That has changed with the release of The Diary Of An American Witchdoctor (Williams Street/Adult Swim), an album that has the integrity of a major label but at times has the feel of a polished demo circa 1995.

    The album begins with a prayer of sorts, before it moves into some of the rawest hip-hop you've heard in years. It's not fake, it's not about being blind from the shine of the bling, although it refers to the riches, plastic people, and the downside of living rough and rugged. Yet with its Southern sensibilities, there's always a bit of optimism through gospel-tinged background vocals and funky basslines that may remind people of the backyard parties of yesteryear. Witchdoctor talks about eating cheap to save on money, and handling your own business because it's either that or go in for the kill, literally. As someone who has been a longtime fan of the Atlanta hip-hop scene, you can still hear what put ATL on the map, the mixture of strong lyrics and music with a solid soul and funk backbone, and that's heard throughout the album. The fact that this album may not blow up in 2008 is a disgrace, but for those who see Atlanta hip-hop for much more than who and what is popular, this is an album that shows a bit of that family vibe that has always made the music feel like a home cooked meal. While eating, Witchdoctor talks about a need for money like oxygen (as heard in "Oxygen") while warning people about friends who will fuck up your friends on the drop of a dime (""Jake Got Ya Body").

    In Witchdoctor's world, life would be good if things were better, but all that glitters isn't gold as they say, so sometimes you have to do what you have to do. The cover photo of three kids standing underneath a tree while one kid on his bicycle (perhaps Witchdoctor himself) smiles from ear to ear shows what it was once like, but the 666 on the license plate perhaps was a sign of what was to come. Smile occassionally, keep one eye open, but stay true to yourself. The backcover has a modern day Witchdoctor, a bit worn from life experiences but still standing, still surviving. That's an MC from Atlanta in all of his glory, that's Atlanta, and that's hip-hop.

    (The Diary Of An American Witchdoctor is available through CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us With a group consisting of such members as WeeDee G, V-Tech, and Dope Nutz, Daily Chores may come off as a joke at first, especially if you take one look at the cover for Don't Get Crazy! (Soldiers Of The Cause), featuring a cartoon cover with the faces of fifteen lunatics. Or perhaps they were influenced by former classmates or current neighbors. Play the album and you'll find something quite different.

    Not that you're not going to find any silliness on here, in fact these guys are serious in the way they rap and write, but are open to poking fun at the world and themselves. By not seeing their photos on the cover or in the CD booklet, there is a slight mystery as to who and what they are. Head over to their MySpace and you'll see that they are nothing but a bunch of guys who like to party and have a good time, and have a love and respect for hip-hop. Some people will see them and go "oh no, white guy alert" but pull that opinion out of your ass and take a serious listen. As their MySpace page stages, they rap about what they know and live, so you're not going to hear about any fake gangsterisms. While they do mention their love of good times, these guys are really into it and write in a way that would please admirers of Chino XL, Eminem and early Jay-Z. The music doesn't rely on samples, which might be a change of pace for some at first, but they pull it off well. Add to that some well written rhymes and one may be able to really a bit of their originality. On the surface, people may also compare them to every other white rap group, whether it's Young Black Teenagers or Atmosphere, but that's only surface. Take a listen and you may find that the future of hip-hop is not so bad after all.

    (Don't Get Crazy is available from CDBaby.)

    Each member of the group have different side projects, and V-Tech is one half of Dominant Intelligence, which may sound like a very bold statement but it works quite well. The other half goes by the name of Homeboy Face (yeah,I don't know either), and on Balance Of Power (Soldies Of The Cause) both of them not only rap but contribute their productions to the cause, which feature dusted samples from the crates of the unknown and their own instrumentation. This one leans more along the lines of Slug and Eminem, and what I like about them is that they not only drop verses but will do a bit of passing-of-the-mic. The humor here is kept to a minimum, as they hit a bit harder lyrically with tracks like "Terrorists In Office", "Through Whose Eyes", and the title track.

    The album is quite polished as is, although a few of the songs would be a bit better to me if it had a bit of grit to it. When I hear a song of anger or protest, I don't want it to sound like Lil' Jon like. Contradictions can work, but here it's one of the few weak spots on the album. This is how they do it in Santa Cruz, and I hope to hear more from all of them in the future.

    (You can find out about Balance Of Power by going to the Dominant Intelligence MySpace page.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Now here's something interesting. It's a four-men crew called Oct., and Outta Control (Fullout Productions) sounds like a throwback to the early 90's, which is a good thing. How good? Well, say what you want about Young Black Teenagers but they had some good songs. Some looked to them solely for their Bomb Squad connections, but they were good at what they did. As for Oct., they take a bit of the old YBT formula and do them one better, and I like that. When they all met (they have roots in Michigan, Illnois, and New York), they were originally going to be a band. Their love of rap moved them into trying it out before making the move to do it seriously. There are a few songs where they do play, such as "The Crunch", and it lowered the momentum of the album a bit. They're not bad musicians, but they set up a good vibe to where it's unnecessary to divert in that direction. When they do, things tend to go downhill and I want to say "no, take it on that funky level and keep on exploring there."

    In other words, it has its good and bad points. When its good, the album's title represents their style quite well. When it's bad, it sounds worse than a karaoke video made at a country fair, and it's not fair to them, or to anyone who has to hear it. Trim the crap, fine tune the better elements, and these guys may be able to make it to the surface.

    (Outta Control is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us I had reviewed an album last year by Chris Schlarb that became one of my favorite albums of 2007. His label, Asthmatic Kitty, passed me another CD by a group I had read about before, Land Of A Thousand Rappers. I was under no obligation to review it, I was just told "take a listen and let me know what you think". The word "rappers" is in their name so I knew I had to find a way to review it, good or bad. I downloaded some sample MP3's and I was not sure what to make of it. Do I take it out of context, or do I wait and consume their music in full. I went for the maximum full dose.

    Vol. 1 - Fall Of The Pillars is hip-hop music for the abnormal. I do not want to use the word "alternative" when it comes to "hip-hop" because I don't believe in that. But of course I referred to it, which must mean that there's a reason for combining them. The music they do is not the traditional boom bap, the trademark hardcore, the overrated gangsta, or anything that even resembles anything currently playing on the radio today. Which might make some to ask the question, is this hip-hop with an electronic edge, or electronic music with a fearless respect for hip-hop?

    I'm going to say it, this is some of the most fucked up music I've ever heard, and that's a good thing. Take bits of Reaching Quiet, early Beck, Ween, Hawd Gankstuh Rappuh Emsees Wid Ghats, and Kool Keith, and what you get is a nutty dose of the unpredicitable, where music reference everything from rockin' Hammond organs to Merry-Go-Round sounds, oceans to radio distortion, and there's a track where everything leads to one of the best moments of the album: the sound of a turkey gobbling! SHIT YEAH! I laughed so hard I almost made some doodoo driblets.

    This is not music for those who want to have a predictable good time. Oh no, this album is quite good, but this is music where everything is scattered all over the place, tempos and time signatures change on a regular basis, voices are never the same from track to track, and no navigational system will help you get from here to there, you just bust out your board or scooter and wait until you see light at the end of the tunnel. A few of the songs do not make any sense, so what's the craft in that? It's how the nonsense works within their musical circus, and yet as I began to listen to it over and over, it made more sense than Cappadonna. The Kool Keith comparison comes from simply writing in a way where it appears to sound abstract but when looked upon from a distance, there is continuity in what they do, even if it's not obvious upon first listen. It takes a lot of risks and succeeds in the process. Whether or not they start the movement of including turkey samples in hip-hop is another story, but I'm all for it.

    (Vol. 1 - Fall Of The Pillars is available directly from Asthmatic Kitty.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Sean P does not play the fool, although some might take him as second rate just because. The guy is from Texas, and as the saying goes, you don't mess with the state, and I dare you to mess with Sean P. The guy has been making music since the turn of the century, being fascinated by various DJ's and MC's that moved him to contribute to hip-hop by making his own music. The guy has not one but two CD's, which show both his skills as a rapper and as a DJ/producer.

    Stiles For Miles is the MC side, and on this album he shows that he is more than worthy of being in the studio and on stage, for the simple fact that he has something to say and he wants to share those stories. My favorite track on the album is "Move Ahead", where he talks about someone who had ambition but because of hatred and fear, the guy looked inward and struggled to get himself out into the world again. The one thing that I like about his songs is that it sounds genuine, there's nothing on this that sounds out of the ordinary or far fetched, although he could create a character for himself and start doing the MF DOOM thing. But comic book fantasies these aren't, it's more about standing positive, being true to yourself, and taking your time to do things right, which some might find shocking when so much hip-hop in the forefront is about backstabbing, breathing stale club air, and putting another bitch on the cabinet. Sean P isn't like that, he wears his emotions on his sleeve and yet doesn't come off weak, which I think is a testament to having to prove himself four times as hard just because.

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Sean P's Costume Jewelry is the DJ/producer side, where he features a mix of original mixes and remixes of well known tracks, and the guy knows what he's doing. I think in a way, he does it to say "if I had a chance to work with these guys, this is how I would do it", and for a few of the tracks they are a lot better than the originals.

    Don't believe me? Find out for yourself.

    Stiles For Miles and Sean P.'s Costume Jewelry are available through his MySpace page.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Nomar Slevik has been making music since the mid-90's, and in that time has combined various sound textures and influences into something that comes off as a hip-hop hybrid of whatever you want to throw at the guy, or perhaps it's more appropriate to call it a hip-hop sponge. The spirit of the boom bap is all over Sasquatch: The Great Dying (Siq), and in each of the ten tracks, where he goes back and forth from rapping to singing, he shows the kind of confidence that comes from putting a lot of time and effort into making music.

    What does it sound like? If Everlast was signed to Mush Records, it would come close to the edginess found on this EP. The sounds of the Middle East which open "Bunnyman" (produced by Moshe) is the perfect backdrop in a track about searching for someone and one's self., while ":Last Stand On Crystal Lane" (produced by DrNo) and "Electrical Storm" (produced by E9nine) would fit perfectly on a Lyrics Born album, especially with the Bowie-esque sample that helps shape the song's mood. Slevik's flow goes back and forth from the abstract to being direct and to the point, although because of the musical backdrops and singing that he does, it might be considered anything but hip-hop. It's hip-hop, it's indie, it's influenced by electronic music, it's a mixture that ends up being a recipe that can be consumed as whole, while taking in the ingredients if you wish to dissect it layer by layer. There's an undeniable groove that will keep listeners moving, grooving, and maybe guessing as to what direction the EP, and Slevik's music, will go next.

    Sasquatch: The Great Dying is available directly from Siq Records


    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Colorado may not be celebrated as a mecca of great music, but in the past they have provided a lot of good bands, be it Expatriate or Warlock Pinchers, and Schleigho, Fans there support not only local bands, but bands from out of state and trade with each other through websites like Colorado Tapers. Jazz fans are slowly becoming aware of 3ology a trio featuring Doug Carmichael (saxophone), Tim Carmichael (bass), and Jon Powers (drums). Like Medeski, Martin & Wood (and I realize that's too easy of a comparison since they too are also a trio, but bare with me), 3ology take in a lot of different influences and interests and create a sound that's deep, warm, open and... wait, that sounds like a Gianna Michaels video. Hold up one moment. Okay.

    Their self-titled and self-released debut album begins with "The Inner Mind", which begins with the kind of swagger one might find on a Prestige or Blue Note album from the 1960's, but with the kind of groove that is very much of the present day. About three minutes in they get locked into that groove as Doug Carmichael starts adding a bit of color into the picture, as brother Tim maintains a foundation while Jon makes sure the paint is forever flowing. The chemistry between these guys is amazing, and anytime one of the musicians throw a curve, they each know where to go at the precise moments. "Gravelupagus" has a nice and smooth Sonny Rollins vibe to it, and just when it begins to feel a bit magical with Doug's saxophone work, he drops out and let's Tim and Jon talk to each other for awhile. Here, Jon kind of gives off that busy Elvin Jones thing where he maintains the main tempo while decorating the place with various hits and crashes which sound spontaneous (it may very well be) but he always gets back on track, into the groove again, Doug entering the picture and making sure to get himself a part of the conversation before the eventual end and final chime. "Mudbutt"... well c'mon, it's called "Mudbutt", there's only one way you can groove with that title. It's a nasty track, slinky, firm, and lush... like a Gianna Michaels video. Here, Tim's bass work (on what sounds like an electric fretless) forms the body of the song, and one can visualize a candlelit room for two, window slightly open, an invitation for what's about to go on inside. Tim's bass almost gets close to that Stanley Clarke groove, and it is THAT type of funk that makes 3am that eternal time, the "zone", the groove, the sway to and 'fro of the magnificent mudbutt (whomever she may be).

    With a track like "Mudbutt" they can get very stylized but leave much room for improvisation, so one can assume that they take this a bit further in a live setting. When the three get loose, one never knows what to expect. That in itself might leave some jazz purists to leave them alone but for the jazz adventurous, this is what I'd call "perfect imperfection". In other words, nothing is perfect, but there's nothing like hearing a group knowing how to play and play well, and in the process taking the listener and spectator for a ride. The album does sound like a high quality live album, but it was recorded in the studio. I love the sound captured by Heath Hardesty in this, everything sounds right, you hear the musical qualities and dynamics, and one can almost feel the chemistry and vibe going on. When one feels the vibe, the only thing they can do is see and witness the music themselves. I hope they take their music on the road and gather up a lot of fans in the process.

    (The debut from 3ology is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us As an artist, Ralph Steinbrüchel creates music and releases it simply under his last name, Steinbrüchel. Basis (Room40 is the assembly of various sounds, layered and mixed together to create something that sounds similar to what some have called click hop, but more along the lines of what came before that. There's a lot of electronic drone slices, and within that he creates these incredible tones and sounds that could be considered electronically meditative, truly becoming more than the ghost in the machine. It's lively, but not in a dancing sense. Hearing the songs here is like watching a plant come to life on film, it takes awhile but you take everything in and things begin to develop in front of your eyes, or at least whatever images are conjured up in your mind. The interludes here are a little over five minutes in length, before it delves into lengthy trips such as "These 1" (going over 17 minutes) and "Falter" (which takes 20 minutes to do). The recordings that are a part of these songs are at times manipulated beyond recognition, and that's a part of the joy of hearing Basis. Perhaps what Steinbrüchel is trying to say is that he has a few sounds that are the basis of these recordings, now let's stretch them to the point of no return.

    (Basis is available from Room40.org.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Melodic electronica? Dreamy new age? A mixture of both? For Spain's Fernando Charro, it was a time for introspection, and he wanted to express some of the things he was going through via paintings and music. Both are blended together in his new release, LiVertad, where he explores the links between himself, the world, the universe, and life as a whole.

    This is not electronica, no heavy or booming beats of any kind, but electronic music in the vein of Tangerine Dream, Mike Oldfield, Jean Michel Jarre, and Isao Tomita. The first track, "La Noche de los Tiempo", could easily be mistaken for music from one of Tomita's albums from the early to mid-70's, with that same type of mystery that somehow makes the synthesized sounds speak as if it was a human voice (and perhaps the point). I've always been a fan of this style of music that takes you on a journey. Even though there are ten tracks listed, it could be one song divided by ten, and what I'm trying to say is that while this album can be played track by track, to get a feel for what Charro is trying to accomplish, listen to it in one sitting.

    The cover art makes it out as if the music is meant to be listened to in a dream state, or maybe our existence is nothing but a dream. Regardless of the inspiration, LiVertad sounds like a celebration of the mysteries of life, what came before us, and what will exist once we're gone. A very emotional and satisfying piece of work.

    (LiVertad is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Cuba is Pedro Alfonso's link to home, and he honors his home and culture through his own music, a mixture of jazz and Latin sounds through the violin. Strings To Your Heart is an album that makes an attempt to pull the heartstrings for the benefit of maximum enjoyment. The guy is an incredible player, at times moving into worlds that would be perfect for smooth jazz, but doing a lot of complex work that would work on the NPR side of things. Inbetween all of this beauty, he offers a political statement of sorts with "Oil For Fools", the title of which should be self-explanatory. If you pay attention, you may hear distant sounds of the Middle East within his playing mixed in with a bit of Americana, and one can only laugh at the fools and hope for optimism in the years to come.

    The series finale of The Sopranos has brought to the forefront a renewal of appreciation for the music of Journey, although the group's music has never left us. Here, Alfonso covers "Open Arms" and honors the original with style and grace. Alfonso plays with power with fluidity, never once letting anyone down with what or how he plays, a very remarkable recording.

    (Strings To Your Heart is available digitally from iTunes, while is CD may be avaiable through his website.)

    Melody Breyer-Grell is a jazz vocalist who honors the music of Gershwin with Fascinatin' Rhythms: Singing Gershwin (Rhombus).

    The arrangements are pretty straightforward, but she manages to give it her all and then some with the performances that are on here, including renditions of "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off", "Nice Work If You Can Get It", and "I've Got A Crush On You". The liner notes state that she was originally trained in classical, and you do hear that in some of the songs, as well as the bubbly vibe that comes from performing in musical comedies. I'm sure she does all of this and then some in a live setting, but you can sense she's a grounded artist with a voice that will impress anyone.

    (Fascinatin' Rhythms will be released through Rhombus Records.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Howard Britz's calls his music contemporary acoustic jazz, and at a time when some forms are jazz are watered down to the point of being a Fruit Stripe gum soda, this definitely means something. His statement, or I should say eight statements are made on Here I Stand (Tee Zee), and the declaration: jazz in its truest form while looking towards the music's future.

    Britz plays the stand up bass, and like many of his contemporaries before him, he writes and arranges his music, as it should be. His knack for getting into the groove whenever possible, and by doing this being the focal point while allowing his musicians to live and breathe in the music, is a testament to what he is as a musician and artist. The music on here has the feel of jazz from the 50's and 60's, so those who may like their bebop and hard bop traditional will find all of that here. But within these tracks one is able to hear a few ECM influences and the occasional push into something soulful and funky, although it's not as upfront as one might thing. "Oceans", like its name, carries the listener on for a ride that goes from smoothed out to a bit of jazzy commotion, but with everyone on the boat (Sylvia Cuenca on drums, Casey Benjamin on alto sax, David Smith on trumpet and flugelhorn, and George Colligan on piano) navigating as a team, they assist/compliment each other quite well and make sure the song gets to its destination in one piece, without anyone jumping on a semi-secure showboat.

    While everyone is on equal terms here, Britz allows himself to shine on his own with the opening bass riff of "Martha's Song", in honor of his wife. Taken in 7/4, Britz sets the listener up for the dynamics that are to come, and throughout the song one can tell Britz is aware of being the anchor, while making sure everyone joins in to bring the album home. The horn section of Benjamin and Smith sound as sharp and polished as any good horn section should, and Colligan's piano work has the kind of style that sounds too good to be true, or as people might say in Hawai'i, "da bugga is mean!" Britz and Cuenca are a team not to be messed with, their union is tight and there are moments where it feels like they are two sides of the same musical brain, quite remarkable. Here I Stand is an outstanding album, and Britz is one of many jazz musicians today who are continuting to break down the time barriers, which is another way of saying that with jazz, there should be no limits.

    (Here I Stand will be released nationally on March 1st, but can be purchased through CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Ashia is a singer, songwriter, and cellist. For some that might mean a road to quirkiness, and in Ashia's case it's not a bad thing. Pay To Be Loved (self-released) is a wonderful 6-song EP which shows how expressive she is on the vocals and with the cello, where she can be happy, melodramatic, and dark all within a few minutes.

    Her singing tends to be on the Regina Spektor side, where it might sound child-like at first, but becomes much more as you turn every corner with her. While having a cello might seem basic for some, she manages to bring the listener into any motif she feels like creating, be it jazz, pop, classical, or something that might be considered a scatterbrain hop, skip, and a jump to the next song (and that was meant as a compliment). You see her and might think of a variation of a Vanessa Carlton but if this is pop, it's more of the Bjork and Feist variety, not Jessica Simpson

    With the range of music she plays here, she could easily do a country song, move right into some light punk, and perhaps do what Elvis Costello did with The Juliet Letters. But she is her own woman with her own style, doing her own thing in her own time, and I hope she'll be able to move up into the world for everyone to hear and appreciate.

    (Pay To Be Loved is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us It is said that thousands of people moved from the East and Mid-West to the West for a new life, but many stopped on their journey at the point of exhaustion. With this comes a transfer of upbringing, culture, and music. The Grizzly Owls are a duo who take on some of those passed on traditions, but sometimes things get lost in translation, as By Night On My Bed shows.

    The eight songs on this EP combine the sharpness of the old country with a need to modernize things with 80's default keyboard beats and Poster Children-type angst. Imagine if Grey DeLisle decided to do some kind of smoky new wave, and you have a good sense of what Jenny Andreotti sounds like vocally. The dark edge comes from the musicianship of Joseph Andreotti, and music like "Jeremiah" and "The Rest Can Go To Hell" sound like long lost tracks from the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack. Not quite Julee Cruise but just as eerie.

    I think what gets to me is that sometimes their union is offset by the other. The vocals can come off strong but the music doesn't sound quite right. Other times the music is the perfect soundtrack for getting drunk and overdosing at an anonymous motel with multi-colored carpets which are there to disguise the stains, but the vocals throw everything off. Half of the songs here are really good, while others have a few missing piees in the puzzle, or perhaps they have a beginning, middle, and end, but they aren't assembled correctly. If anything, it shows that while some place limits on the definition of country music, Americana has become a place to explore strange new worlds, not unlike America itself. I definitely like the potential of what is being done by this wife/husband duo, and I hope that they will strengthen a few key elements so that a full proper album will make people run for cover.

    (By Night On My Bed can be purchased directly from their MySpace page.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Need more music from couples? Here's another one. Jane Dowe and Hank Hofler call themselves Oh Astro. With a common love for musical creativity and experimental sounds, they create music that sounds right only because it's so fucked up, but in a good way.

    I'm a huge fan of artists and producers who fuck up the notion of music by cutting it up in twisted ways. One of my favorite songs off of of the Belle et Fou soundtrack (Sonar Kollektiv) is Forss's "Flickermood", where a jazz song is cut up, stretched, and twisted well beyond it means, so that beats jump from one place to the other, and yet it is still incredible. When I first heard it, I probably played it ten times straight. Oh Astro are that kind of group where what you hear may be what you're hearing, or may not be what you're supposed to hear. It's made for the dance floor, to pump in the car, it could be played to excite children at daycare centers, it could be for those with an admiration for groups like Stereolab and Sukia, it's multipurpose quirkiness, a perfect marriage of mystery and unpredictable moments. The opening track, "Snow Queen" (MP3) sounds like someone throwing in 80's pop with Prince, although with words cut up beyound recognition, at times it sounds like she's singing about gism. But get into "Lucy On The Moon" and it sounds like a haunting song taken from a film from the 20's or 30's, but filtered through an effect that sounds like a synthesized vacuum, or singing into a fan.

    Electronic music is an endless world, one in that you never want to escape from or stop listening to, and Oh Astro is definitely an assumption of the future via modern interpretation. You sometimes hear the actual voices of Dow and Hofler, other times it's sources from other tracks (ssshhh) or from friends and collaborators. Off the top it's a bit kooky, but once you find a comfort zone to rest in, there's no end to the delights one can experience from this album.

    (Champions Of Wonder is available directly from Illegal Art.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Sometimes I get albums sent to me and I have to ask myself "what the hell were they thinking?" Case in point: The Terrordactyls. This is what you get when one of the guys comes from Tukwila, Washington. They met during high school on Vashon Island, WA (the other member is originally from Baltimore), and finding a common love of creativity, they decided to add music to their arsenal. Their self-titled debut (Pankof) sounds like a cross between the dorkiness of They Might Be Giants and the nasal vocal twists of cLOUDDEAD/Reaching Quiet, but without the tendency to drop funky distorted beats.

    To be honest, it's the kind of quirky indie pop that you can't help but love and embrace, and share to your friends. One guy sounds like he would be on a really cool situation comedy, while the other sings like he belongs on the wrong side of a VH-1 show with lots of soundbites. With their stories of wanting to swim and have dolphin fins, or the wonderment of "Parking Lots", their brand of acoustically driven tales with bright drippy things has just the right amount of weirdness to be huge. Not huge in that "what's that in your pants, an armadillo?" sort of way, but rather in a way that could change lives for a small group of people who will find their brand of humor to be just the thing to make life worth continuing with. Non-threatening, but as warm as inflammation.

    (The debut album from The Terrordactyls is available on CD from The Terrordactyls store on their website, where you can also buy custom hand turkeys and pins. Or if you are a digital cheapskate, you can download it free from their multimedia page. You can also view one of their videos here, courtesy of YouTube:)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Brian Grosz is a member of the band Dogs Of Winter, but if you've ever wondered what it would sound like if he got out of those confines, you're in luck. Bedlam Nights (Exotic Recordings) shows the darker side of Grosz and it sounds like he's been listening to a lot of Little Feat, The Band, and The The... now imagine that for a moment. Got it? His bio states he has "the methadone nod of Mark Lanegan, and he does have that, or at least he does in "Lady On The Low", which could easily be mistaken for Billy Idol. Imagine if Jack Johnson had a mean case of itchy boto and had to plug himself in. That's how rugged this album is, where he talks about being too fucked up to drive and passes by the things in life that aren't worth stopping for. With a title like "Won't You Be My Neighbor" you know there's going to be some kind of sarcasm going on, especially when the album also features "Sick Of Your Shit".

    Bedlam Nights is definitely a peek into the mental madhouse that is Brian Grosz, who sounds like being in the wrong side of town on the wrong time of day after waking up from the wrong side of the bed. I like it.

    (Bedlam Nights is available from Exotic Recordings.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us With a simple name like Project, one might miss them during normal music conversation. It could mean anything, everything, and nothing at the same time. In this case, Project is a 3-piece jazz band consisting of Greg Pattillo on flute, Peter Seymour on bass, and Eric Stephenson on cello. I was introduced to them on a board when someone wanted to show people this jazz trio who played funky and had a guy who was a beat box flautist. In the words of Moe Szyslak, "whuh-whuh-WHAAAAT?"
    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

    I did not know what to expect, but I'm watching the video on YouTube and I had to hear more.

    Now, I'm not a flute player but I had a dad who was not only a jazz fan, but a huge fan of the late Herbie Mann. We had Memphis Underground, Push Push, and Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty, and his flute playing became a part of my early childhood. I had uncles who were heavy into Jethro Tull and I could hear the sheer power of Ian Anderson. What I always liked in flute-based music, especially rock, was when the guy (or lady) would play and gasp for air. When you hear a pianist, guitarist, or a drummer, unless they're yelling like Charles Mingus or are as loud as Keith Jarrett, you don't hear that. With a flute, you can't not only the breath, but that quick gasp. Don't ask me why, but I still think that's great when someone is doing a solo, and within this melody there's a quick "tthEEH" or "maaAH kkooof EH". Thing of Walter Parazaider in Chicago's "It Better End Soon", specifically Movement 2. Yeah it's silly, but when you hear it enough times it becomes percussive.

    What Greg Pattillo has done is something that a lot of musicians do. You are trained to learn an instrument the right way, but when you're practicing or just sitting in a room, you want to try something that people normally don't do. To be honest, flautists have always done interesting things while playing, but within a jazz context, and arguably a soulful, funky, and hip-hop context, it sounds new. The flute has been sampled many times in hip-hop (whether it's the Western flute or flutes from Asia or the Middle East), but one doesn't tend to think of dope beats and a flute. Project is able to incorporate that into their sound.

    The group is one of many today who have a love of the traditions of jazz but grew up with hip-hop as their soundtrack. Whereas the jazz of the 1970's expanded on where the groove could go, some jazz of today has that groove looped and chopped. Project aren't a hip-hop/jazz hybrid, in fact most of what they do is arguably traditional jazz, or at least traditional in the late 20th century sense. They also throw in a few classical influences and the strength between the three of these guys is incredible. When they do take on Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus", one can almost imagine the legendary bassist saying "what in the fuck are these guys doing?", while at the same time tapping his feet as silent praise. "Sweet Pea" sounds like the kind of song that would be a cratediggers dream, as it has a funky bass line (done with a stand-up bass and the cello) and the beat box flute that is too irresistible to not mess with (in a sampling sense). It's a headnodder, and one will still look at the cover of the trio and say "wow, this is jazz?" Why yes, it is.

    Everything was recorded live in the studio, so anything that may have been of the moment is caught digitally and saved for future generations. While digital recording tends to make some recordings a bit too "pristine" (thank you Mr. Primus Luta), the playing and quality of the recording seems lively, and that's due to Dawn Landis (who recorded and mixed three of the tracks) and Scott Burns (the remainder) doing an excellent job in capturing their sound. Project's sound is a novel approach, and one that works quite well.

    (Winter In June is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Phillip Bimstein calls himself an "alternative classical composer", which could mean he's open to flirting with the avant-garde, or simply messing with the notions of what defines music as classical. His style of composition is for the most part traditional, but of course there's an edge to it. For Larkin Gifford's Harmonica (Starkland), one gets to hear this "edge" as he combines real instrumentation with found sounds, with each of them feeding off of each other to create a unique dialogue.

    It's a rootsier approach to music not unlike what Coldcut have done, in that he mixes and twists the music to create what he wants, while adding dialogue and found sounds to tell the story, or at least to create an aura of sound that leaves a lot to the imagination. "Casino" is divided into three different tracks, with each of them talking about the lure and drawbacks of Las Vegas, and the real reason why the city never sleeps. Bimstein does this with the work of Sierra Winds, a wind quintet that becomes the gentle side to the song's horrors of eating, drinking, gambling, and sex. The title track is also divided into three movements, whch features harmonica playing from Gifford, mixed in with stories and tales of a yesteryear that is dear to him, perhaps showing the listener a perspective of time passed and time long gone.

    In between these pieces are the kind of creativity that will make you want to listen to this repeatedly, to be able to get all of the words and voices and to detect what Bimstein was able to do with the materials gathered to create these songs.

    (Larkin Gifford's Harmonica is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Last year I heard the music of jazz musician Pamela Hines for the first time, in a trio setting on the album Drop 2. She has returned again with her trio (John Lockwood on bass, Bob Gullotti on drums, along with Jerry Bergonzi sitting in on tenor sax) for the appropriately titled Return (Spice Rack).

    As soon as you hear her play in "Ojos de Rojo", she plays with such a demanding style (as if to say "this is Pamela, I'm going to show you what I have and it's quite good") that you can't help but be floored with the first few notes. Lockwood and Gullotti are doing their thing to mold the song together, and it's great when Hines and Lockwood are playing together in some spots while Gullotti tightens everything before moving on with the song. I myself could just listen to Gullotti play, but again Hines reminds us all that this is her album and again the trio play in beautiful harmony.

    It reminds me a bit of Dave Brubeck's style where it's played with power and yet it's light to the touch. She has been compared to some of the best, and for good reason. While you may not hear someone else's exact style in hers, what you do hear is the same passion and fervor that let's the listener know that she is very serious in what she does, both in her playing and how the songs are arranged. In the title track the trio bring in Bergonzi on sax, and he creates the kind of aura that will definitely please fans of Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderley.

    As a means of comparison, she has included two takes of "My Heart Stood Still", one running close to four minutes, the other a little over seven. The short take goes through all the emotions, but she and the rest of the group let loose during the longer take. The celebration of jazz continues in the 21st century through musicians like Hines, Lockwood, and Gullotti.

    (Return is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Bring Back The Guns is angst and rage just the way you want it: with hints of punk, rock, punk rock, and the subliminal metalesque riffs thrown in sporadically. Dry Futures (Feow) sounds as if someone brought in the best elements of Sore Jackson, Rocket From The Crypt, Trumans Water, Weezer, Flaming Lips, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Treepeople, and poured it into a blender with Tiger Balm and one Naga Jolokia pepper. Their music is primal and ugly, not disgusting, but just the right amount of punch to where jumping off a stage and onto the floor head first is nothing more than a means to melodic punk relief (just don't do that, I know you're not a dumb ass).

    Call it math rock, call it complex, call it the ultimate anti-fist banging mania music, this should be the soundtrack to the new revolution for modern day rock. The guitar riffs are fierce, the rhythm section are explosive, and the lyrics are a deliberate fuck you to anything that stands in the way of the oppressed and pissed. As long as they avoid doing a track like "Beverly Hills", Bring Back The Guns are part of a revolution that hopefully will save the world, one garage at a time.

    (The CD for Dry Futures is available directly from Feow Records. MP3's can be purchased through eMusic.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us If jazz vocalists were more in the forefront today, Melani L. Skybell would be someone who may be celebrated among the greats. She has released three albums and her fourth, Just A Chase Away, shows why she has what it takes to be a jazz singer, and what it could take to become one of the best if the music scene today had a few adjustments.

    Skybell not only sings but writes, as she composed eight out of the eleven songs here, and her lyrics show a lot of strength and maturity. In other words, she could easily be someone out there offering her songs to the world, but through her voice and piano work you get a much more direct feel for what she's trying to say and accomplish. Highlights include "Let's Get Away", "The Stars In Your Eyes", "Dreamflight", and she dips into the standards with a rendition of "I'm Just A Lucky So And So", for fans of Ellingtonia. The production on this is quite nice too.

    (Just A Chase Away is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Southern Exposure by Dorothy Doring could have been interesting, especially with a track listing that includes Cole Porter's "I Love Paris", John Coltrane's "Giant Steps", and Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away", but I found myself struggling with this one a bit.

    It's not the music or the production, because both is great. I just found Doring's voice to be not to my liking, and I listened to it a number of times to get a feel for it. I just couldn't. Sometimes there's a lot of thrill to it, while other times it just sounds flat, and purposely flat at that. I don't know if that's her intention, or my ears were fatigued but with a title like Southern Exposure I had high expectations. Not really a let down, just disappointing.

    (Southern Exposure is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Here's an interesting combo, but not one that hasn't been done before: jazz vocals and banjo. Cynthia Sayer is the lady behind the album, and for Attractions (Plunk) she uses the talent of Bucky Pizzarelli to get her music across. Now, I'm a casual fan of the banjo, when I know someone is playing I really want to hear them play. But in this case, I found Sayer's vocals more exciting than the banjo playing. She can play quite well, and maybe if I see any musician promoting their musicianship, I really want to hear them play, but the majority of the album sounds like nothing but accompaniment.

    With that out of the way, keeping in mind "subtlety is key", I found Attractions to be quite good. Musically she goes all over the place too, from blues to jazz,m folk to old style pop, and even her original "Banjo Tango" shows off her skills as a musician (it is also one of my favorite songs on the album). The non-jazz material sounds very much in the vein of No Depression/Americana, and she comes off as a very rootsy, soulful singer who wants to not only tell her stories, but to continue the stories of those before her.

    Maybe she's not someone who wants to be a show-off musician, and if so, good for her. But it works as an earthy album full of adventure and tales of times that become memories.

    (Attractions is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us If Norah Jones decided to dig deeper into her country roots and did something along the lines of Grey DeLisle, Harriet Wheeler or Kacey Chambers, it would sound like Bitter Blue, the debut album from Spokane, Washington's Karli Fairbanks.

    What struck me immediately was the voice, which was very emotional, ethereal, and while there is a slight delicate, angelic side to her voice, the lyrics offer a different perspective of things. As she sings in "Canyons", No my heart, it isn't hard/I do feel and I starve/I'll save my tears for something else/I'll cry some more until it helps. It's an open book that's too irresistible to close, and fortunately she allows listeners to peer in. When that steel guitar comes in during the intro of "Tie Me Up", it immediately brings to mind all of those classic songs where that twang from one key to the other may bring a tear or two to the eye, and the entire album is pretty much like that. Bitter Blue couldn't be a more appropriate title for an album so somber and melancholy, and while it is one of those "play this alone, in the dark"-type albums, it would be great to hear this material played live with others who may feel the same things she expresses in these songs, these stories of love lost, love disappearing, time fades because time doesn't wait, but if you stay in one place, you may either miss the one you've been looking for, or miss out on someone looking for you. When the album gets to the end with "Ten Dollar Show", Fairbanks explains that her heart can only hold back so much, and perhaps one day her soul and another will meet and do the dance that they only know.

    It's Americana, it's folk, it can easily be adapted to country, and yet it's also trademark Pacific Northwest, with the gloom and doom played in a manner that is a plea for better days instead of bitter ones. The approach of the songs are simple and spare, with nothing but guitar and vocals, with perhaps a slide guitar or accordion coming in and out of the mix every now and then. It's the perfect album to listen to alone as you scream inside for that special someone, realizing that someone is singing the songs you thought no one could ever understand.

    (Bitter Blue is available from CDBaby.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us When I played the album by the Washington, D.C. duo known as Chessie, I heard it one way. Because of it, I wanted to hear it differently to find out if there was a difference. Yes, I will explain.

    Manifest (Plug Research) is the group's first album in seven years, and fans are certain to say it was worth the wait. As for me, I'm new to their music and upon hearing it the first time, the first thing I said was "this sounds like it's in need of a singer or two". I've heard the complaint before, either from people on board listening to their favorite instrumental artists or critics who hear the music and claim that it would be great, but it's missing lyrics. That's how I originally heard songs like "Take The Lark", "Poughkeepsie Aflame", and "Farewell Diagonal", where some of the instrumentation and electronic textures would make them perfect as backdrops for Radiohead, Coldplay, or even something The Chemical Brothers have done in recent years. If there's one song that I think should have vocals on it, it's "Intercity", where certain musical phrases and chord structures loop over and over and I feel that it would be perfect if someone committed words to them. Stephen Gardner and Ben Bailes create the kind of music that is certainly hit worthy, but it left me hanging. At least upon first listen, and when there are portions where things go on and on in repetition, they're not boring. They're developed to where you move into the vibrant sounds and pulsating drum tracks, but it gets to moments where you wonder if and when the journey will end. At least upon first listen.

    Then I listened to it again, without thinking about the need to have a vocalist, and Chessie are like a more electronic version of 65daysofstatic. It was then that I began to hear a lot more expression in their sounds, and essentially the musical voice of Chessie. If The Necks are about exploring their music through improvisation, Chessie are about getting from point A to point B in a pre-planned manner, meaning that every sound heard is meant to be there, no detours of any kind. That doesn't mean the music is boring or formulaic, nor does one expect the expected. Instead, every thing sounds right, even when it does feel free-form (as it tends to do in "Hoosac" and "Long Bridge").

    The group have not forgotten their indie rock roots, they have not abandoned their guitars for plug-ins and obscure audio programs. Chessie move forward and look inward to find more ways to expand what their music is about, musically and dynamically.

    (Manifest will be released on February 4th, and can be pre-ordered from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us I read the bio for The Shondes, a quartet out of Brooklyn, and normally I don't but after hearing the music I wanted to know a little about them. It states that the group are known for their complex, melodic rock sound combined with rich vocals, and a live show that explodes with energy. Their songwriting fuses the various musical traditions of feminist punk, classical, Jewish, and queercore, while their vocal melodies move effortlessly from anthemic to haunting, textured by the distinct qualities of each of their voices.. The Red Sea (self-released) sounds like a cross between 7 Year Bitch and Red Aunts and musically they would fit in very well on the Sympathy For The Record Industry roster.

    Lyrically, they sing about taking charge and not giving up on life ("Don't Look Down"), resisting the right to remain silent ("Don't Whisper"), and romance in the form of "What Love Is". There's a sense of pride as they play and sing, whether it's cultural, political (they are supporters of Jews Against The Occupation, or sexual. Sometimes it's in your face, other times it's simply a need to speak out against the status quo, or at least to not believe in what your parents and grandparents passed down to you. Some have mentioned Riot Grrl when it comes to comparing their sound, and it does have that feel at times but to their credit, The Shondes have much better arrangements and hooks. Or perhaps it can be said this way: if the mainstream had seen and acknowledged the progression of the Riot Grrrl movement, The Shondes would be the Green Day of that movement, but with occasional sloppy drumming.

    (For more information on The Red Sea, contact them through their official home page.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us Aranos is an artist who has done his share of traveling, and through observation he has come up with a project that will make people think of their actions and surroundings. It's an album called Tax (Pieros), and just as George Harrison once talked about how everything will one day be taxed, Aranos suggests that we live, breath, and die with tax on our minds, and if there was a way, they would tax the concept of our souls too.

    The album looks at the many concepts of tax and the need for money or any type of currency to make the world go 'round. In "I Don't Want To Pay For War" he says Hey Mr. Politician, we paid enough for your ambition/I don't want to pay for any war anymore/the way they use media and teach history in school/telling us to accept that the wars are really cool/everything is resolved by force and violence/we have to spend more and more on so called defence/I don't want any more armamants/No more crazy governments/I don't want to pay for any war anymore. In "I Pay Tax" he gets into a blues motif as he wakes up in the morning to wash his face and brush his teeth, only to come to the realization that everything around him is money meant for someone else. "With Our Killing Costume On" talks about how people put on costumes to kill others with different costumes, for the sake of national security and freedom. Money is truly the root of all evil according to Araon, and through various styles of music he expresses himself in a way that sounds like Ruben Blades meets Tom Waits, with a few Zappa-esque qualities.. Hearing this makes you wish all of us, regardless of country, were more self-reliant, and it's difficult to find a way to get out of that, and not have to pay for murders and wars that happen elsewhere. This is an album that should be sent to every politician around the world. Perhaps Aranos is saying "I dare you to prove me wrong". Music for the people.

    (Tax is available from CD Universe.)

    Image Hosted by ImageShack.us M. is not to be confused with M of "Pop Musik" fame, but rather a man named Martin, who creates the kind of psychotic electronic-based rock along the lines of nine inch nails or Ministry. In Absentia (self-released) takes a look at a world with an uncertain future, expressed through paranoid beats, vocals of rage, and various sounds and samples. "Xenophobia 88" sounds like doom at its best, and when the sound of a music box comes into the music, it sounds like we're looking back at a better world long gone. "Alien" is the story of someone who finds himself in a place unknown, only to be taken through a process of anti-identification. and it might make people afraid to walk outside ever again.

    It's pretty heady and heavy stuff. M. calls this a "headphone album", although it sounds great without it. Blast this through a nuclear winter and see what comes out of the muck. Maybe your past.

    (In Absentia is available from CD Universe.)

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    American Beat Records are back with a new string of reissues for fans of classic rock, and anyone who is a fan of the following will have to pick these up:

    Artful Dodger-Honor Among Thieves
    Blue Oyster Cult-Imaginos
    Sammy Hagar-VOA
    Donnie Iris-Back On The Streets/King Cool
    Billy Squier-Signs Of Life

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  • Honor Among Thieves is the 1975 album by Virginia-based Artful Dodger, who were one of many power pop bands that made its way onto the radio during the first part of the decade. The album's production by Jack Douglas would have put them on the top of the charts if it wasn't for the fact that they were the right band coming out with great music at an arguably wrong time, as harder sounds were competing with the rise of disco and punk. Power pop suddenly became the new cheese. Nonetheless, Artful Dodger had a lot of fans and many remember hearing songs as "Scream" and "Keep Me Happy" on the radio, both of which appear on this album.

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  • Hard rock fans should know who Blue Öyster Cult are, as they are the band who told us not to fear the reaper, to watch out for Godzilla, and perhaps more importantly, when to play B-sides. The group had enormous success in the 1970's, found a new audience in the early 80's with MTV introducing them to young America. By the time Imaginos was released, the group's popularity was at an all time low. BÖC were a bit like dinosaurs on their own domain, and in truth the group were competing with young new hard rock and heavy metal bands, many of which were influenced by BÖC, and perhaps it was time for the new blood to take over. Imaginos was originally recorded as an album by BÖC drummer Albert Bouchard. Columbia Records were not interested in releasing a Bouchard album, so with a few added touches it became the then-new BÖC album. With no promotion at all outside of ads in primary magazines, the album was a bomb and when Columbia Records in the U.S. were bought by Sony, they were dropped from the label they had called home for sixteen years. Even though it's not quite a BÖC album proper, it did get a small bit of airplay and is still considered a fan's favorite and for those who support BÖC and all of its side projects.

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  • You want to talk about hard rock legends? Look no further than the Red Rocker himself, Sammy Hagar. While a generation knows him as being Van Halen's second main vocalist, fans know him as one of the best singers and guitarists in hard rock, playing with Montrose and H.S.A.S. and releasing a string of now-classic solo albums. Early MTV embraced him and his music with heavy airplay of the "Three Lock Box", which at times could have been mistaken for a Van Halen song, especially the harmony vocals during the song's last minute. The V.O.A. album was released in 1984, the same year Hagar joined Neal Schon, Michael Schrieve, and Kenny Aaronson to create the H.S.A.S. supergroup, also a staple of early MTV. However, it was "Two Sides Of Love" and the radio-staple "I Can't Drive 55", which became one of the first songs on MTV to be played uncensored ("I'm gonna throw your ass in the city joint") that would make him a household name in the 1980's, which would help him gain a following from that point on. Plus, you can't ignore an album with great songs like "Rock Is In My Blood" and "Dick In The Dirt".

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  • It may be true that MTV did indeed kill the radio star, but in the early days it still had the spirit of radio, back when radio meant something. MTV was considered "a step up", as it was now possible to see your favorite artists live, in movement, without waiting for years for them to maybe play in your city, or to see music 24 hours a day, all day, in stereo. One of the network's heroes was Donnis Iris, whose music always got airplay on the radio, not just the hits but key album tracks. Back On The Streets and King Cool were the albums that made him a star, both have been out of print for years and command high prices online, but with the exception of one track from Back On The Streets removed due to time constraints ("Too Young To Love"), they are back.

    Iris was responsible for such songs as "Broken Promises" and "Shock Treatment", but the guy was also responsible for such hits as "I Can't Hear You", "Ah! Leah!", "Sweet Merilee", "My Girl", and the early 80's anthem, "Love Is Like A Rock". Iris came off as the nerd gone cool, kind of like Elvis Costello without the messed up teeth. While other songs from the early 80's have become fodder for commercialism, no one has turned "Love Is Like A Rock" into something to lure customers, at least not yet. It's one of those songs that is about the power of rock'n'roll, the majestic feeling of the guitar riff, and the urges one gets when one wants to "rock". Rock on, Mr. Iris, rock on.

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  • American Beat Records have reissued two other Billy Squier albums, and this time they put back Signs Of Life back on the market, 24 years after the fact. Squier was one of early MTV's many monarchs, with songs like "The Stroke", "In The Dark", "My Kinda Lover" and "Everybody Wants You" getting massive airplay, putting him up there with Hall & Oates and The Motels. Signs Of Life is an album that had a lot of solid songs, and it holds up incredibley well today, featuring "Sweet Release", "All Night Long", "Eye On You", and the album's most popular song, "Rock Me Tonite". Unfortunately, while "Rock Me Tonite" was irresistible hard rock with a pop edge, fans could not get past the video of him with flimsy clothing as he pranced around while waiting for his big silk sheets moment. While he himself admitted that the video pretty much killed his career, it fortunately didn't stop him from making more music, even though this removed him from the spotlight. Nonetheless, as music videos become a part of history and more irrelevant as fans prefer to have music over visual non-substance, those fans can now rediscover how good this album really was, from a craftsman who could make this kind of music with his hands tied behind his back. While people know him as an 80's act, Squier has been doing his thing since the late 60's, and he's very much a veteran in the same vein as Eric Clapton and Buddy Miles.


  • DJ Denox has a new mix CD out now in collaboration with HHNLive.com, called Just Remember 2007, featuring a whopping 67 (!!!) tracks looking back at the year in hip-hop. Find out why he's called Canada's hardest working DJ by downloading the mix CD for free through these links:

  • While the actual 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Thriller has come and gone, you can't deny the power of an album that spawned 7 hit singles. In honor, Epic/Legacy Recordings are releasing a special 25th anniversary edition of the album, simply called Thriller 25, featuring a few brand new perspectives and some previously unreleased material. Here is the confirmed final track listing:

    1. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
    2. Baby Be Mine
    3. The Girl Is Mine (with Paul McCartney)
    4. Thriller
    5. Beat It
    6. Billie Jean
    7. Human Nature
    8. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
    9. The Lady In My Life
    10. Vincent Price Excerpt (From “Thriller” Voice-Over Session)
    11. The Girl Is Mine 2008 with will.i.am
    12. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing) 2008 with will.i.am
    13. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' 2008 with Akon
    14. Beat It 2008 with Fergie
    15. Billie Jean 2008 Kayne West mix
    16. For All Time (previously unreleased track from Thriller sessions)

    Yeah, I honestly don't understand what Fergie or Akon are doing on this either, but hey, what can you do.

  • Praverb The Wyse has a new mix CD out now called The Gospel Is Free and true to its title, Praverb's brand of gospel is being made available as a free download:
    1. Bury Me an Emcee (freeverse)
    2. Looking At You (freeverse)
    3. Lost Ones (freeverse)
    4. Door To My Life (freeverse)
    5. Da Grind (freeverse)
    6. Righteous To Go (freeverse)
    7. I Don't Know Officer (freeverse)
    8. Go Crazy (freeverse)
    9. Milk Em (freeverse)
    10. Here We Come (freeverse)
    11. Lovely Morning (freeverse)
    12. Never Enough (freeverse)
    13. Throw Some D's (freestyle)
    14. Religion Is Rap (snippet)
    15. Christ Cypher feat. JC Rymez, Billybo, C-Los & Change

    Again, it is free and you can download it right now:

  • Paper Bag Records has just signed Toronto artist Laura Barrett. The label will be releasing an EP, Earth Sciences, on February 26th, featuring the song "Deception Island Optimists Club" (free MP3 download). Barrett is known for being eclectic, but her left-of-center ways has also lead her to being recognized as a finalist for the SOCAN ECHO songwriting prize, which looks to finding worthy talent in Canadian independent music. Just as Earth, Wind & Fire's Maurice White made the kalimba a well known instrument and a household word, Barrett incorporates the sound of the African thumb piano in her music, which may seem odd for those who aren't familiar with the instrument, but she uses it not only to color her music, but to also turn it into the lure for what she does as an artist.

    An album will be recorded for release later this year, and she is scheduled to perform at this year's SXSW in March.

  • Whew, made it to the end, 10 minutes before midnight. That's the end of this weeks Run-Off Groove, and despite all of the reviews in this installment, I still have more music to cover, which means you'll have to come back next week.

  • If you have music that you'd like for me to review, contact me through My MySpace page. Vinyl and CD's preferred, please, and I'll also review DVD's and books of interest.