CD

Compact Disc

Sunken Condos

20 Nov 2014
Donald Fagen
CD
Warmer Brothers

Some of us have been listening to ‘the Dan's’ music for nearly four decades, yet the noise is as compelling as it was way back when. It’s safe to say that the sound for which Donald Fagen is so well known was established somewhere in the late 70s and, for better or worse, has been used in all the various albums that were produced by both Fagen and his musical partner Walter Becker since that time.
This album, Fagen's fourth solo effort, features nine of his trademark slightly self obsessive songs about relations with (much too) young women and other middle class tales of angst and disillusion. The sound is the same yet different, gone is the very exact and artificial feel of the his 1980s recordings, in its place comes a looser, funkier, bluesier and yes jazzier feel. The keyboards and synthesized sounds are there but in addition there is meaty bass, the intimate effect of room echo and a different combination of leading instruments, even a trumpet solo!

Danophiles and Fagenites may be surprised by the lack of big name musicians who used to be associated with this artist, but don't be frightened, the very high standards we have come to expect are maintained. The quality of the recording is somewhere between OK and average. All is well and clearly presented but a little bit thick and slightly shut in. I can't quite recommend a best track, with the exception of I'm Not The Same Without You and Out of the Ghetto, all the tracks are entertaining and they are compelling sonically, musically and dare one say, intellectually.
To this listener's ears its Fagen’s best effort to date. In the pantheon of Steely Dan’s work it one should find a place somewhere at the very top of the list (I beg to differ, Ed.), a must have for the fans and a good introduction for those who may be new to the Dan and the Don.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads 1

17 Nov 2014
Joe Locke
CD
Motema

A runner and a dancer may be equally fit and develop similar muscles but watching them ‘strutting their stuff’ elicits very different reactions. A case in point is Joe Locke's vibraphone led Lay Down My Heart. As I am partial to the sound of a vibraphone and own albums by the likes of Lionel Hampton, Terry Gibbs and Milt Jackson among others I was happy to discover another protagonist of this instrument. Locke's quartet offers a take on jazz that’s not often heard today, it is unashamedly bluesy, swingy and altogether exceedingly enjoyable. In contrast to cerebral players who push a faster and higher must be better agenda, Locke and his group prove that enjoyable need not be read as simple, and melodious does not mean uninspired. This album has the feel of the Modern Jazz Quartet, it is stylish, rich and offers a reminder of sounds that have regrettably vanished from jazz clubs.

The pieces are a mix of seductive interpretations and original material presented in expressive and rhythmic fashion by Joe Locke (vibraphone), Ryan Cohan (piano), Jaimeo Brown (drums) and David Finck (bass). It all starts with one of the best renditions I have heard of Bill Wither's Ain't No Sunshine, it transforms the intimate original into a grand swinging blues and funk piece. It also shines a new light on Bonnie Raitt's I Can't Make You Love Me and the old standard Makin' Whoopee.

The quartet brilliantly merges precision and playfulness, tension and speed with plenty of opportunity for each musician to show his abilities. The recording is rich and precise. The bass is large, rich and tight, and even though it presents both the piano and vibraphone in a wider than life manner, it should on the whole please the ears of audiophiles. To my ears the best two tracks are the aforementioned Wither’s song and the third track Bittersweet.  This is highly recommended to anybody who needs a musical uplift that includes verve, style, elegance, creativity and most of all enjoyability.

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Big Inner

6 Oct 2014
Matthew E White
CD
Domino

Matthew E White is a prolific guy indeed. In addition to releasing a single (One Of These Days), this album and a follow up EP called Outer Face, he fronts an avant-garde jazz band (Fight the Big Bull), and manages to arrange ‘this’ and collaborate with ‘them’ as well. It’s an admirable work ethic from a guy who only went solo two years ago. His style and choice of music invites many comparisons, all are very complimentary in their nature. There is a bit of pop, gospel, rock, New Orleans jazz and much else woven into his album. I would describe him as a North American version of Guy Garvey (Elbow), the musical tapestry may not be identical but the talent, ambiance, individuality and qualities are in many respects very similar.

Big Inner is made from a very heavy dose of 70s sound of the very highest pedigree. The music will be eerily familiar to those who are 50 or over for that reason. Soul, rock, blues and gospel fusion supported by brass and strings dominate the album, but there is much to enjoy besides. There is a Blood, Sweat & Tears feel to some of the arrangements, while others sound like an unpublished track from a never released Beatles album, or a future Elbow album. One of the tunes has a very strong flavor of Randy Newman’s style in that era. White's singing style is quiet and nonchalant, no drama and no shouting, just a rhythmic and melodious presentation of four minute musical vignettes. The recording quality is nothing to write home about, but that does not detract from this enjoyable and fairly short 41 minute album – a good fit on a vinyl LP. It’s the perfect album for those who crave an easy to digest yet interesting new musical encounter.

Stand out track: Big Love

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
vinyl, download

La Strada Invisibile

15 Sep 2014
Marcotulli & Biondini Duo Art
CD
ACT

The editor it appears suffers from a little known disease called accordionophobia, hence this is the third album to feature the instrument that has come my way. His loss my gain! La Strada Invisibile is yet another delightfully mesmerising album from the ACT label. From the first note and with very few exceptions this is a musical tour de force that is filled with energy, verve, imagination and musicality of the sort that one does not hear in many places now a days. It has passion that is so lacking from today's commercial mainstream that it’s very pleasing to witness, hear and experience.

The album is a collaboration between a pianist and an accordion player, but DO NOT let this put you off, it has a sound big enough to excite and captivate. The protagonists of this charming and melodious album are Rita Marcotulli (piano) and Luciano Biondini (accordion). The music is grandiose and for the most part flowing in bold and breath taking fashion, veering from folksy, funky, jazzy fast rhythms to what sounds in places like a rendition of a Nino Rota's undiscovered works for a Fellini movie that was never made. Aided in places by a bit of pleasant electronica that adds depth and dimensionality.

There are opportunities aplenty for the two to demonstrate that even at a time when the work of a mediocre rock band is added automatically to 119 million new devices (U2, iPhone 6), the majority of humanity is missing a trick by not listening to music. The recording quality is wonderful, it is hard to screw up recordings that involve just two acoustic instruments and ACT is particularly good at doing the opposite. The sound is transparent to the point that every click and clack from the accordion's keyboard is heard while the piano's full range is represented openly and without exaggeration.

This album will delight those who wish to discover music in its simplest yet most creative state. The style is slightly tricky to classify as it marries many genres, but fans of classical, jazz, world, and even blues music will find much that will captivate and intrigue. Extremely highly recommended you will not regret the choice for a single second of the 54.44 minutes that this fine album runs for.

Stand out track: Tuareg

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
none

Freeman

8 Sep 2014
Aaron Freeman
CD
Partisan Records

Aaron Freeman went by the pseudonym Gene Ween for the 28 years that he fronted the alt rock band of the same name, but he returned to his given name for a solo career that started two years back with an album of Rod McKuen covers. On this second outing he does a pretty good impersonation of a singer/songwriter in the classic mould, but as Ween fans might imagine he puts a few twists in to keep things interesting.

What marks Freeman out is a combination of his way with words, which are rarely predictable, beautifully honed guitar playing and plenty of variety on the overall musical theme. This is not as diverse as is found on some of Ween’s albums but the pace and arrangements are varied thanks to a skilful backing band, violin for instance is used on El Shaddai which is followed by the rather archly peculiar Black Bush, which is oddly reminiscent of Kate Bush – maybe the title is a clue. Gimme One More on the other hand is a simple but effective riff combining guitar and organ in infectious style that sits on the edge of a progression which it never quite delivers, this gives it a tension that even a pretty scorching guitar break can’t diffuse.

The sound here has real tone, it’s very seventies in fact, my brother Patrick suggested Big Star which rings true in the guitar breaks. It’s a troubadour style that has been evolving in North American music for decades, a torch carried by the likes of Neil Young, Tom Petty, John Hiatt et al and one which feeds on the revision that Freeman brings to it.

Formats also available: 
vinyl, lossless download

In The Orbit Of Ra

28 Aug 2014
Sun Ra And His Arkestra
CD
Strut

When initially asked to review this album I approached it with a mix of trepidation and curiosity. In the event the occasion has been a very merry romp through some very enjoyable performances by very talented musicians. The Sun Ra name has associations with weird and uncompromisingly avant-garde jazz, rest assured this album isn't either, both descriptions are completely undeserved.

Sun Ra and his Arkestra very much captured the mood of the fifties and the sixties. His music was no more futuristic or “off the scale” than many of the bebop founders and their generation, in his musical presentation and themes he was far closer to Gillespie than to Parker. Ra had a shtick which he became famous for and which is still being used on stage by the current iteration of the latter day Arkestra. His strange part science-fiction/B-movie style only highlights the bizarre era that was the fifties. Sun Ra (born Herman Poole Blount) purported to be a part of the ‘Angel Race’ and to have come to the blue planet from Saturn. He espoused an anti-violence philosophy that he described as Afrofuturism. This double album is a result of a painstaking work done by the longest serving member of the Arkestra Marshall Allen, it features 20 tracks that with very few exceptions never fail to intrigue and entertain in equal measure. The style can be described as a mix of soul (way ahead of its time) and bebop. Those who are familiar with the work of Yusef Lateef and Randy Weston will find much that is familiar, but just as much that is new.

Sun Ra's music is whimsical, melodious and witty. There is a child like happiness in his grooves and harmonies that you don't always get to hear from the oh-so serious and oh-so drugged up cadre of bebop musicians from the same era. Ra's keyboard and the Arkestra offer rhythms and harmonies that move at pace from afro-Cuban to blues to what sound much like Ethiopian harmonies and tunes. At times you get the impression that Thelonious Monk is accompanying the Arkestra, such is the similarity of they keyboard sound. The recording although old and on a whole overly ‘warmed up’ offers transparency and intimacy. This is a delightful compilation of jazz with sparkle, wit and charm, with track titles such as Rocket No 9 Takes Off For Planet Venus and Have You Heard The Latest News From Neptune you know you are in for something slightly different, the album has its awkward moments, but they are very few indeed. Extremely highly recommended to anyone looking to add the work of a unique, happy and most of all creative ‘alien’ to their collection.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
double vinyl

Imaginarium

22 Jul 2014
Clarice Assad
CD
Adventure Music

It is impossible to sum up the size of this musical tour de force, it is just immense. Be it the talent, the energy or the incredible amount of collaborators who are taking part. This album musically explodes around listeners in the most pleasant fashion. Standing at the helm of this larger than size effort is Clarice Assad, a unique performer, arranger, multi instrumentalist, singer and practicing musical professor to boot. She belongs to one of Brazil's most cherished musical families, one that includes the better known Assad brothers duo and her aunt Badi, who has had a measure of musical success outside of Brazil and has released albums on the Chesky label.
There are around 40 collaborators and performers involved in Imaginarium. The Assad family has made an art of interpreting and re imagining the many musical styles of Brazil and as a result the album is a cheerful romp, an ever moving musical tapestry that involves Samba, opera, Indian raga, violins, rap and a full Batucada. The tempos and energy are intermingled in each of the songs, which, with the exception of one, will delight and continuously surprise the ears of its listeners. Much like a previous review of Benjamin Taubkin’s collaboration with Moroccan musicians (Al Qantara) this album highlights the very many musical styles of Brazil that we don't often get to hear.
The album is superbly recorded and allows voices, percussion and deep bass all to be heard and not overwhelm each other. You will have to visit Assad’s site to be fully informed about the many instruments and musicians that are involved in each track, they are way too numerous to begin to list in a review.
The album is very short, its 11 songs run for only 38 minutes, but it's packed with enough content and energy to last another day at least. Buy the album or download the very poor MP3 version that is available, either way this is another MUST HEAR that will fill your life with a rarely heard musical joie de vivre. Another album from Adventure Music that will be shortlisted for the album of the year.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Dolly Shot

15 Jul 2014
Science Fiction Theatre
CD
Traumton

This is a tremendous bucket of fresh water from Berlin, it really woke me up and made me happy. I have it on heavy rotation in the car, all the time. Not because I’ve never come across anything similar but because so much joy in making music doesn’t appear very often. Those who love music from Ennio Morricone, Piero Piccioni, Piero Umiliani or Berto Pissano will know what I’m talking about. It’s something like being forced to watch someone’s head being shot off and believing it’s the funniest thing you have ever seen at the same time. But there are also moments for more lyrical reflections as well as some sentimental notes. And they are not humorous in any way.

If you like The Cinematic Orchestra and John Zorn’s Naked City this will float your boat. It has a bit of everything in it, it’s The Sex Mob meets Genesis, but also Kurt Weil dancing with Tom Waits. There’s a cabaret decadence to it but it’s not obvious, it doesn’t slap you in the face. It appears in Italian movies like cadenzas but turns into crushing sax crescendos in a second. It jumps on your head from the rap like rubato* samples mixed with insane dialogue and giggles, which then turns into some crazy spiing patterns that do your head in. There is some loneliness as well, similar to that found in the early Jarmusch movies and illustrated so aptly by John Lurie’s tenor sax.

But there is also some madness, expressed a bit like Psychic TV or Blurt (you remember Blurt! Ed). It’s a kind of schizophrenic feeling but one that’s lined with nostalgia. Some listeners may find the mood similar to The Dark Side of The Moon, but whatever you recognise you can’t help tapping your feet and wanting to dance. Even if the melody is sick and fainting and the orchestra is drunk, as long as they still can deliver you don’t want to switch it off. What more could I say?

Greg Drygala

*randomly changing tempo

Formats also available: 
none

Al Qantara/The Bridge

19 Jun 2014
Benjamin Taubkin
CD
Adventure Music

This album, made by a collaboration of Moroccan and Brazilian musicians is unusual. Very. The result is very uncommon but in a very positive and a musically pleasing manner. Al Qantara/The bridge is one of the most gentle albums I have ever heard, it offers a light touch that is as mesmerising as it is musical. The highly talented band plays north African sounds that seamlessly intermingle with samba and north Brazilian samba-canção music that is reminiscent of the songs of Dorival Caymmi. The music flows effortlessly and never attacks, rather it grows and develops.
The musicians include Benjamin Taubkin (piano), Ari Colares (percussion), Joao Taubkin (bass), Lulinha Alencar (accordion), Mehdi Nassouli (gimbri) Farid El Foulahi (oud), Lahoucini Bagir (percussion). Taubkin's piano is flowing yet very measured and never dominating. Although it’s credited to the pianist the listener will be hard pressed to find a ‘leader’ on these tunes. The album moves musically from east to west across the Atlantic, with the first track offering a breath taking ‘summary’ of what is to follow. There are two tracks that are predominantly Moroccan/Arabic with one that offers a small taste of Arabic singing.
The recording quality is very good, and as all the instruments are acoustic the sound is natural and forgoes artificiality and silly effects. My favourite track was the opener O Deserto É Aqui, but this is an album I have not stopped listening to for over a week, so the rest of the tracks now join it in a slightly compromised equal first place. The music will appeal during the commute, be it via headphones or the car audio, at home it will make for a happy and rhythmic musical short hour (45’18” to be exact). The music I have reviewed this year has been exhilarating for the most part, this album has just raised the bar and should be a candidate in the top 5 places come the end of year list. Extremely highly recommended.

Reuben Klein

El Valle de la Infancia

13 May 2014
Dino Saluzzi Group
CD
ECM

Dino Saluzzi's group plays music pulls you in slowly without gimmicks, bombastic performance or pomposity. It isn't old or new, it isn't styled or filled with any messages. Rather it is a set of tracks filled with dreamy music that veer heavily towards the latin be it Iberic or South American. The group features:

Dino Saluzzi: bandoneon 

José María Saluzzi: guitar, requinto guitar

Nicolás “Colacho” Brizuela: guitar

Félix “Cuchara” Saluzzi: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Matías Saluzzi: electric bass, double bass

Quintino Cinalli: drums, percussion

Three are members of the Saluzzi family and the synergy is evident across the length of the disc. Although there is a lead player the album never sounds any less than a collaborative effort that offers equal parts and gravitas to all the musicians that are contributing. As Saluzzi is a native of Argentina he pays homage to its instruments and rhythms. The music veers from tangos to native South American rhythms and even a hint of flamenco.  The music is never strained or anything less than melodious, it is sometimes lyrical and in places haunting. And to highlight the melodious sound the recording is, even for ECM, a marvel to listen to. Instruments are staged accurately and portrayed richly with little trace of digitalia. The bass extends low but has not been obviously engineered and the midrange reflects itself in a highly dimensional fashion.

This is an album to relax with, not one to take along on a commute (unless you want a relaxing commute, Ed). It is a rewarding experience that enriches and soothes in equal measures. And even on a moderate system the music will impress with its sublime recording quality. Having listened to it three times I am yet to be able to find a favourite track. I find it impossible, and furthermore suspect that many will do something they have not done for many a moons and just let the whole disc play its course. Very, very highly recommended!

Reuben Klein

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - CD