CD

Compact Disc

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

No Deal

2 May 2014
Melanie de Biasio
CD
Play It Again Sam

Melanie de Biasio is a Belgian singer who seems to be big on the continent but this is her first release in the UK. I must confess that I only became aware of her very recently thanks to the remarkable French radio station FIP.  In No Deal Ms de Biasio has produced a gem of an album, one which carries a strong recommendation made up of two words: MUST and BUY.

The album is a short affair with only seven tracks that leave one aching for a lot more when they finish. Six of the tracks are penned by de Biasio and clavinet/synth player Pascal Paulus, the other is a classic made famous by Nina Simone (I’m Gonna Leave You). For reasons that are beyond my understanding each and every discussion concerning de Biasio brings an avalanche of comparisons to other songstresses, I think the comparison is not only unnecessary but also does this very talented singer an injustice. Melanie de Biasio has a very special presentation, there are no gimmicks or special effects involved, just something honest and emotional that captivates and enchants. As per the comment made above her voice and the style in which she presents her songs have been subject to many unjust comparisons. In my view she is unique enough to be taken on her own merits and for the album to be compared to her previous album (A Stomach is Burning) alone.

Her sound is dark, but not angry or depressed, her voice is just there, projected in a manner that allows the emotions it carries to be heard and felt with little that veils or hypes the presentation. The sound is not jazz or it is but not quite, the inclusion of a clavinet especially gives it a seventies feel, while at times the pianist conjures up the feel of Arvo Pärt. The analogue synth and drums give the rhythms and syncopation a tension that makes even the gentlest passages feel punctuated and defined in a very unique way. At times soul, at times jazz, at times chill but at all times beyond reproach and brilliant. Nothing is hurried yet a storm surrounds the listener with layers of notes and emotions. The album’s seven tracks are performed by Biasio voice and flute, Paulus, Dre Pallemaerts on drums and Pascal Mohy on piano; a very able group of musicians.

To my ears The Flow, the second track on the album, steals the ultimate accolade. This album is pure magic. One of the most delightful discoveries in recent times, I for one will make sure that it is not the only album of hers that finds its way into my collection.

Reuben Klein

Ed’s note
Melanie seems to inspire comparisons with many great singers, Simone being my choice, but I have to agree with Reuben’s findings, this is a superb album and it sounds good too.

Formats also available: 
180g vinyl, 24/44.1 download

Searching For Jupiter

28 Apr 2014
Magnus Öström
CD
ACT

Magnus Öström and his band play rock, but not exactly, funky metal, but not exactly, progressive rock, but not exactly, jazz, but, you guessed it. This album is a wonderful musical romp, as entertaining as it is musical. It has a tangential feel to it, with a repetitive tendency and notes that make you feel as if you’re moving in a series of endless circles. With the exception of one number it’s hard to switch off and invites high volumes and repeat play. It’s very ‘listenable’ material that never challenges but always interests and intrigues the ears and brain.

Searching For Jupiter has a Bela Fleck esque feel to it (especially Dancing at the Dutchtreat), which in my book at least is high praise (I would encourage anyone interested to look up Bela Fleck and the Flecktones playing Blu Bop). The band consists of on time e.s.t. drummer Magnus Öström (also on percussion, voice and additional keyboards), Andreas Hourdakis (electric and acoustic guitars, banjo), and Daniel Karlsson (grand piano, keyboards) Tobias Gabrielson (electric bass, bass synthesizer, keyboards and others). The ACT label uses the moniker ‘In the spirit of jazz’ but as mentioned earlier, the music played is an interesting fusion between rock and many other styles, it will remind many of albums that were made in the 70s by the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and conversely Jan Hammer.

It starts with haunting piano and guitar rhythms reminiscent of Andreas Vollenweider (but not exactly) that continue to build volume and rhythmic tension, moving onto a piece that sounds almost like a country dance-fair in the midwest (but not exactly) Then the tempo drops substantially to produce a track that is at odds with the rest of the album, but things immediately improve with the title track. This offers devotees of seventies prog an earful of rhythms, stops and starts that will produce smiles and induce replays. Things move swiftly to a darker, austere track that could be used as a soundtrack to at least one modern day Scandinavian crime series, and on it goes. This is a feast of associations and sounds.  The band works well together, there is no dominant member and there is an ample opportunity for all to shine.

To my ears the title track is the best but this is followed very closely by the opening number The Moon (and the Air it Moves). The recording is open and precise if a wee bit bright in places, it is tempting to listen at high volumes but may fatigue the ears of those who own bright speakers. This is a great album to discover, equally at home on the system as well as in the car, it’s exceedingly highly recommended.

Reuben Klein

Holst, The Planets suite

7 Apr 2014
Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle
CD
Warner Classics

Back in 1982, Herbert von Karajan recorded the Planets with the Berlin Philharmonic for DG – a massive seller in its day; both on LP and CD. By co-incidence, the young Simon Rattle also recorded the work for EMI with the Philharmonia around the same time. His 2006 remake with the Berlin Philharmonic is slightly broader than the Philharmonia account in one or two movements, but overall the feel is richer and more deliberate. The playing is very beautiful, but on balance the performance hangs fire slightly – it’s neither a brilliant virtuoso account, nor a quintessentially British one. The Berliners produce a very sumptuous and refined sound, aided by a smooth recording that sounds mellow and integrated rather than forward and detailed. Increasing the volume a notch or two helps, then one can savour the impressive dynamic range, deep bass, and subtle instrumental detail -  all captured without obvious microphone spotlighting. The old Karajan recording sounded brighter, and a lot more immediate, while Rattle’s Philharmonia account was quite distantly balanced – the orchestra set well back in a spacious acoustic. Here, the acoustic is rich and fairly spacious, but not too reverberant. Like most recorded performances of the last dozen or so years, Colin Matthews’ Pluto the Renewer is included after Holst’s Uranus. And there’s a bonus CD containing Asteroids - four short Space related pieces by four composers, including Mark Anthony Turnage. 

Jimmy Hughes

Formats also available: 
24/96 download

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