CD

Compact Disc

A Hero's Lie

24 Jul 2013
Grey Reverend
CD
Motion Audio

Grey Reverend has bubbling under on and around the Ninja Tune label for a couple of years now, he popped up on the Cinematic Orchestra's last outing and that band's leader J Swinscoe has released this album on his Motion Audio imprint. The influences working on Reverend, or Larry D Brown as he was christened back in New York, would appear to include the likes of John Martyn, Bert Jansch and Nick Drake but the artist he actually cites is Elliot Smith, the late American singer/songwriter. Brown is also a friend of Jose Gonzalez and wrote the instrumental Little Jose in his honour. He has a pared back style, not quite just voice and guitar but often not a lot more and gets by on the quality of that voice combined with a gift for songwriting and picking skills which come together particularly well on My Hands and The Payoff, which also features Austin Peralta (who tragically passed away not long after the recording). The release notes compare Brown with Will Oldham and Ray LaMontagne as well as those mentioned above but he's rather more positive than that might suggest, not happy happy joy joy of course but there is little in the way of wallowing which makes a change.
The sound is pretty good too, open, modern but not slick. An honest record in all respects really and one that reveals the heart of a musician with empathy and compassion.

 

Formats also available: 
WAV download

The Beauty of Fake

26 Jun 2013
The Last Hurrah!!
CD
rune grammofon

Another Scandiwegian gem The Last Hurrah!! is Norwegian guitarist HP Gundersen along with a cornucopia of unusual acoustic instruments played by an international ensemble of great musicians. It's floaty, light and often features vocals from Heidi Goodbye (great name) accompanied by female BVs. Infuriatingly the CD consists of a single 35 minute track. Mysteriously the artwork refers to track numbers with regard to specific musicians albeit the track names themselves are not numbered, another good reason to buy vinyl methinks. At its most interesting when the voices give way to a broad array of instruments including various guitars, drums and electric, acoustic and slide bass backed by Chinese guzheng (zither), flute, Hawaiian guitar and  Norwegian Hardanger fiddle to name a few. It's one of those albums that is too short by far, it would probably fit on a single vinyl LP although Rune Grammofon is offering double and single disc options.
I love the rich tone that the variety of instruments produces and would recommend this as an appealing bit of background music rather than something to sit down and scratch your goatee too. I'm not averse to a bit of the latter but it's good to have a palette cleanser once in a while and this is an appealingly fresh example.

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, MP3 download

Somewhere

11 Jun 2013
Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette
CD
ECM

In the past I have found the standards covered by Jarrett, Peacock and DeJohnette are a little too old and soft for my tastes, but this selection, originally presented at a 2009 concert in Lucerne, has just the right balance of beauty and exploration. That's partly because it combines six standards with two originals, in both cases the Jarrett compositions segue into or out of someone else's work, the title track for instance which is a Bernstein/Sondheim piece becomes Everywhere a classic left driven Jarrett groove.
The album opens with a high contrast piece, Jarrett's solo Deep Space which has moments of shimmering beauty and others that reflect the title with their cold serenity. This migrates naturally into Miles Davis' Solar with bass then drum joining the piano. This piece is pretty adventurous and shows off the trio's chops as well as giving listeners some musical meat to get their teeth into. For me Somewhere/Everywhere is the highpoint of the album thanks to the pianists left hand constancy and some particularly inspired work from DeJohnnette who abandonsthe sticks in favour of what sounds like brushes. Jarrett plays with particular inspiration, the rhythm of the lower keys providing an anchor that lets his right hand take flight. This 20 minute revelry has a rhythmic grip that encourages you to close your eyes and be in the moment, that moment four years ago in Switzerland when the planets came into alignment and created this auspicious occasion.
I honestly think that Jarrett is playing on a higher plane than he was in when his name had a profile outside of the jazz universe, you get less of the introspective and perhaps fewer glimpses of the inner spirit but these standards allow him to show a warmer, gentler more human side. Age mellows even the most intense and not necessarily in a bad way as this superb concert reveals this in all its glory. Oh and it sounds great too, even by ECM's high standards.

 

 

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Apocalypse

9 Jun 2013
Thundercat
CD
Brainfeeder

Just as the sixties has proved a happy hunting ground for Jack White the seventies would seem to be a major source of inspiration for Stephen Bruner aka Thundercat. This LA based singer/bassist's second album has a lot of familiar sounds and styles to those that appreciate the more imaginative strands of jazz/rock. Stanley Clarke would seem to be the strongest inspiration, specifically his early work but there are traces of Herbie Hancock and Clarke's band Return to Forever. Apocalypse is an unusual work that borders on the progressive but also has a lot of soul, so Tales from Topographic Oceans it ain't. In fact there are times when it could almost be smooth disco and the second half has a lot more appeal than the first which merely hints at what's to come. The final tryptich A Message for Austin/Praise the Lord/Enter the Void is particularly effective. I was intrigued by Thundercat's first album but this one seems more of a piece, it's a rare foray into realms that few artists understand today, a carefully crafted and richly detailed work that avoids the pitfall of sounding clever for its own sake. This could well be a result of producer Flying Lotus' (Thom Yorke, Earl Sweatshirt) involvement who Thundercat credits with making the album something that "people can actually see for what it is". If you dig spacey bass powered grooves give this far out cat a spin.

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV download

Quercus

3 Jun 2013
June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, Huw Warren
CD
ECM

According to the great Danny Baker: "Any pure music is inferior to mongrel music". The album reviewed here can be seen as prima facie evidence that the wordsmith/broadcaster is right. I have to confess that when the request to opine on this album was made my heart sank, I know nothing about English folk music. I have been exposed to very little of it, and the image conjured up for the most part is somewhat akin to that created by the mention of Morris dancing. In short, expectations were neutral at best, and I was bracing myself mentally for a review that apologised for my lack of enthusiasm.
However... I am happy to report that once I started listening to it all fear was quashed and expectations exceeded. Quercus is an album that succeeds in spite of its sober musical musings. The album is a lyrical journey, it offers a very intimate sound which relies on a combination of factors. None of its contributors can lay claim to a particular prominence, the two better known  members of the trio are June Tabor and Iain Ballamy (vocals and saxophone respectively) who are supported by Huw Warren; in my view the star of the album. The material is mostly made from songs but there is a single instrumental piece.
The recording quality has a typical ECM sound, impressive and clean if not entirely natural. Ms Tabor's voice has an unforced essence, combining emotion and flow without any discernible exclamation, it is honest and unaffected. Iain Ballamy's sax reminds me of John Surman, those who are frightened by modern reed players will find his sound cosseting and gentle.  Pinning together the unusual combination of folk and instrumental styles which can loosely be described as jazz is Huw Warren's excellent ivory tinkling. Fans of the Nordic jazz revolution of the past few years (Tord Gustavsen etc) will no doubt be drawn to the melodious melancholy which permeates through every piece.
This is serious album, a cerebral expression of control and a calculated effort to maintain a degree of cool not usually encountered in folk. But that is what gives it an appeal outside of folk circles, it's a fascinating amalgam of styles the like of which one rarely encounters. Those who dare to experiment will discover some wonderful music on here, it's highly recommended for the musically curious amongst us. A relaxed and absorbing experience for those not frightened by a experimental/cerebral presentation which is always melodious but occasionally challenging.

Reuben Klein
 
Best Album Track: Who Wants Evening Rose

Out of kilter fact: June Tabor has recorded a version of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit

Youtube track from the album

 

 

Formats also available: 
MP3 download

Live with Britten Sinfonia

14 Apr 2013
Jaga Jazzist
CD
Ninja Tune

This pairing seems as unlikely as Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra did back in the seventies yet it works, possibly rather better than the Purp's efforts judging from its place in the classic rock pantheon. Jaga Jazzist's effort has some chance of standing the test of the time because this performance captures their latter day prog inventiveness coupled with the tonal riches and majesty that only an orchestra can deliver. It is also a fully combined effort, the Britten Sinfonia is an integral part of each piece, the arrangements are remarkable and a very positive reflection of this Norwegian ensemble's capabilities. Almost an orchestra by most standards Jaga Jazzists is led by Lars Horntveth who plays tuba, flute and percussion and features powerhouse drum pummeller Martin Horntveth alongside seven other highly talented multi-instrumentalists
They use the full dynamic breadth of the orchestra and reinforce it with their own unique vision, a richly varied but purposeful and subtle view that gains an extra dimension in this setting. I was a little disappointed in One Armed Bandit, it couldn't quite match the intensity of What We Must but this unexpected treasure has reaffirmed their position as one of the most inventive an interesting leaders on the extremely fertile Scandinavian progressive music scene.
There are a number of new compostions on this album alongside rearrangements of five from previous albums
Bananafleur Overalt has overtones of Sketches of Spain, Mathias Eick's solo being distinctly Davis esque, the performance brings new dimensions to the piece without straying far from the framework of the original. The finale is an arrangement of JJ's strongest piece to date Oslo Skyline is as gloriously noisy as ever, enhanced by distorted brass and the scale of the orchestra it must have made a phenomenal finale at the live event. I was surprised that the press release lead with with "It's a live album, and when are those ever very exciting?" In my experience live albums can be among the very best but perceptions must differ. If this release doesn't shift that notion then nothing will.

 

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, WAV download

Change the Beat

2 Apr 2013
The Celluloid Records Story 1979 - 1987
CD
Strut

Jean Karakos founded Celluloid Records in Paris in the late seventies but it wasn't until he started releasing bass player/producer Bill Laswell's work in the early eighties that it got off the ground. This two disc, 26 track retrospective (the download adds a further five including a rare Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles piece Doriella Du Fontaine) reveals Celluloid to have been an extremely eclectic and forward thinking label. The material ranges from post punk to electro, dub, world and hip-hop and includes hits such as Timezone's World Destruction featuring John Lydon and Afrika Bambaataa. The sound varies as well but there is naturally a strong eighties feel as a result of the synths, drum machines and for that matter production styles that were popular at the time. Only the african artists manage to escape this and have not dated so obviously as a result, or is it that they are merely making better music?
The second disc serves up some interesting musical morsels including an instrumental credited to Ginger Baker called Dust To Dust and early examples of hip hop that serve to illustrate how much the genre has changed in the last 25 years. There is plenty to explore here especially for those who enjoy a good drum machine, the drum sounds on here have pretty much disappeared from music today but this isn't necessarily a bad thing! This may not be the view of those who weren't there the first time however and this compilation offers a fascinating insight into the era, one that has shown some signs of revival already but could come back stronger if enough people get to hear this.

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, MP3 download

The Reason Why Vol.1

18 Mar 2013
Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra
CD
Headspin

Last year Goran Kajfes released the beautifully bound X/Y album with his Subtropic Arkestra playing largely original works on disc X and Kajfes with David Österberg doing a modern variant on In A Silent Way on disc Y, the latter is more ambient and has proved the most enduring. The name of this latest release from the Croatian born trumpet player may seem cryptic but is in fact a straight forward explanation of where the inspiration came from to make X/Y. The eight tracks on The Reason Why Vol.1 are Kajfes' versions of some pretty obscure but now must hear originals from today and back in the day. It kicks off with a bit of Turkish psych in Edip Akbayram's Yakar Inciden Inciden, me neither, and works its way through pieces by Tame Impala, Soft Machine and Cluster to name the artists I have heard of.
All instrumental and generally high energy thanks to the brass quotient this is a fabulous album if you enjoy jazz rock of the variety found on Zappa's Grand Wazoo or Jaga Jazzists What We Must to give two contrasting instances, powerful, exciting and pretty much full on stuff. The Subtropic Arkestra is a ten strong Swedish band that combines brass, keyboards/moog/cembalo, guitar and bass plus drums played by highly capable musicians who have either been well guided or have a natural affinity with the work. The sheer quantity of energy and dynamism of the playing means that a degree of obvious compression has been necessary in the production but the result is essential from beginning to end, the sound doesn't get in the way of the music. I was blown away when I first put this on and that feeling has remained with continued exposure, it seems a bit early to pick an album of the year but this is a very strong contender.

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, MP3 download

Isle of Magic

14 Mar 2013
Mop Mop
CD
Agogo/!K7

An unusual afro-european melange with a fabulous sound Isle of Magic is the sonic result of Mop Mop founder Andrea Benini's vision of an island of musicians. It varies in style quite dramatically, the first four tracks have a heavy african influence and the voice of Trinidad poet/singer Anthony Joseph whose conscious lyrics give them a character not usually associated with this type of music. The release describes the music as voodoo-jazz, afro-funk and soul but fortunately in most instances only one of these names fits each individual piece.
Mop Mop consists of Benini on guitar and drums, Alex Trebo on piano, Pasquale Mirra on vibes and marimba, Guglielmo Pagnozzi on sax, clarinet and flute, Bruno Briscik on bass and Danilo Mineo on percussion. They are assisted by trombonist Fred Wesley who paid his dues with James Brown and Funkadelic among others and Sara Syed, a Finnish-Egyptian singer who delivers the more conventional soul quotient.
The juiciest funk is delivered in the instrumental passages where the orchestra of contributing musicians builds up a richly varied vibe that sounds gorgeous.This is a very warm and organic sounding album and I wasn't surprised that it had been recorded in analogue, what was less expected is that it was done with vintage electronics, which is never the easy nor economical way to make a record but the results speak for themselves. At its best with Joseph's voice this is the best sounding digital release of 2013 so far, the fact that it also includes good music makes it pretty much essential.

 

Formats also available: 
vinyl, download

Sunset Sunrise

28 Feb 2013
In The Country
CD
ACT

Sunset Sunrise continues the Norwegian trio In The Country's distinctive journey through the less obvious musical fjords. Morten Qvenlid's piano remains as rambling as ever yet continues to distract and delight. Laid back and freeform, the opener is a slow paced wander that takes us to places very different from our own surroundings. In the liner notes Qvenlid talks about the necessity of self reliance for many Norwegians, a situation that leads to them coming up with their own solutions and techniques. That appears to be the case with his playing even though he has worked with so many other musicians that this sense must be either cultural or nostalgic. The rhythm section of Roger Arntzen on bass and Pal Hausken on drums keep things on a relatively familiar track most of the time and this of course affords the pianist the freedom to roam wherever the muse takes him. This is not free jazz however, a label that conjures up pianos falling down stairs and saxophonists strangling geese, the central voice has some unusual things to say but it does so in an approachable way, there is little of the machismo here.
The title appears to have been inspired by Sunset Sound the studio in LA where the album was recorded in the summer of 2012. This might be why the sound is a bit more muscular and weighty than In The Country's previous albums. It's a good sound, one that's easy to approach, especially when Qvenlid's playing lapses into full on tunefulness. This gives the rhythm section a bit of room to manoeuvre, to show off their chops so to speak but there is no showboating, this band operates as a cohesive whole and its this that gives them the ability to explore without becoming self indulgent.
In The Country are genuinely pushing the art of the piano trio forward, they are exploring new forms without resorting to abstraction, resisting populism but remaining accessible. They are high on my list of must see bands.

 

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