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Pennies From Heaven

10 Oct 2018
Susie Arioli Swing Band
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Justin Time

Hailing from Montreal, Susie Arioli has championed jazz swing with a host of musicians and bands for nigh on twenty years. Pennies From Heavenwas released in 2002 and is her second album, it’s a smile inducing foot tapping affair. A perfect antidote to the endless stream of politics, news and other negative tales of wow and intrigue brought on by “events dear boy, events”.

The album highlights the presence of lead guitarist Jordan Officer on its cover, his Django Reinhardt-esque French swing guitar is intoxicating and equal in its verve to the very prodigious swing singing style of Arioli’s voice. Joining them on the album are bass players Solon McDade and Colin Bray, and guitar player Jerome Brown. Arioli doubles as lead vocal and drum player. In addition, there is a cameo by the late Jeff Healy on the band’s version of Memphis Slim’s ‘Having Fun’.

The sound veers from western blues swing to French gypsy guitar. The tunes include jazz standards from Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and others as well as original tracks.  Most of the foot tapping tracks will be familiar to most listeners. The album is a relaxed smile inducing affair but while being accessible maintains a strictly schmaltz free musical environment. The arrangements and tracks are executed brilliantly and ‘swingingly’ by the whole band.

The recording is very analogue, warm and fast with generous but tight bass which makes for a great sound even when played in the car. (I have this on MP3, but even heavy compression doesn’t ruin the listening pleasure.) Pennies From Heavenis a very highly recommended retreat from the woes of modern existence and a perfect companion at home or on the road.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
CD

The Siren’s Song

28 Feb 2018
Kacy & Clayton
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New West

Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum hail from the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. With a small band of musicians the two distant cousins who reside in rural agricultural area have produced one hell of an album that evokes CSNY, the Marshall Tucker band, the Band, Grateful Dead, Fairport Convention and other giants of the late sixties rock-folk scene. While credit is due to all involved, the star of the album is Kacy Anderson who’s voice can be described with two words: world beating. Think Sandy Denny when she was in Fairport convention, marry that to a young Joni Mitchell and you’ll get a very good approximation of her singing talent.

The Siren’s Song is a short album of nine largely original titles, the exception being ‘Go And Leave Me’, a traditional song introduced to them by Norma Waterson.  The style and sound is electric folk with a nod to country rock. Kacy Anderson sings and plays acoustic guitar, 12 string guitar and fiddle, Clayton Linthicum is on electric and acoustic guitars, vocals, piano, pedal steel, recorder and Marxophone (a fretless zither), Mike Silverman plays drums and percussions while Shuyler Jansen covers electric bass. 

As mentioned already the album is a magnificent platform for Kacy Anderson’s voice, she sings in a natural and unassuming fashion, not old fashioned but rather timeless. She doesn’t use any trickery or attempt any fireworks, instead she applies a unique talent with great skill.

Produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco and recorded by Tom Schick (Ryan Adams, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Wilco etc) the album’s sound quality is good, the instruments are well placed in a wide stage that highlights the vocals. The Siren’s Song is a rewarding if short musical journey that you will enjoy taking again and again. Kacy & Clayton will be touring in May when they will be playing 12 dates across the UK.

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
CD

Rights

6 Nov 2017
Schnellertollermeier
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Cuneiform Records

Tight doesn’t even begin to describe the high level of interplay displayed by this Swiss guitar bass drums trio. Somehow, with just four albums under their belt they have managed to map out an alternative route to  the conventional guitar-led power trio format and take it to an altogether different level. Schnellertollermeier is in fact  Andi Schnellmann on bass, Manuel Troller on guitar and David Meier on drums. These three musicians have been working together as a band for more than ten years and  have produced three albums  Holz (2008), Zorn einen ehmer üttert stem!! (2010) and X (2015) before this new album made in 2016 during the band’s residency at the Südpol cultural centre in Lucerne.

Schnellertollermeier composed and rehearsed new material in different rooms of the house, and performed the initial results in a series of concerts. They sketched out their material, adapted it, took it apart, and put it back together again like highly skilled engineers.  Schnellmann, Troller and Meier, it has to be said, belong to a younger generation that takes heavy metal, hip hop, grunge and electronica in its stride. Their idea of a power trio is a million miles away from the long soloing excursions of bands like Cream. Their music always starts from the ground up, building and developing one idea, adding a series of powerful crescendos to it with the occasional solo foray. Here, every single note has a clear, precise function in the building and development of the whole piece. If ever you wished to hear precise mechanical engineering in music, this is probably it. And yet it sounds so natural and organic. Using the lilting minimalism of early 80s King Crimson as a point of departure, the trio inject into it a much tighter  series of bass and drums interactions underpinning cyclical and mesmerizing arrangements, full of off kilter  phrasings and devastating guitar riffs.  

Going along this high voltage rollercoaster ride, we finally discover how it is possible to connect the more avant side of progressive rock with post rock’s math-like inclinations and fuse them with eerie, improvised industrial soundsculptures. Bands like Battles had in the past got very near this kind of approach but never quite with the same level of detail and intensity. Whilst the band’s approach is undoubtedly embedded in mechanical minimalism, when they break ranks, the end result is more often than not quite surprising. On the opening ‘Rights’, the band suddenly breaks from it’s rampant, highly strung cycle leading the listener into a fractured David Torn-like post industrial desolation. It’s a moment of  respite before taking the piece into it’s devastating finale.

Essentially, what makes the difference here and in the other three compositions is  the  clever use of  loops, treatments and delays which adds a strong visual dimension to their music. The original idea built from the ground up, expanded and empowered by high octane riffing suddenly turns into a mesmerising industrial sound sculpture bursting the notion that rock music might be dead after all these years. Following carefully the band’s train of thought, we become at one with the sound, taking in every nuance and detail; nothing is thrown in our face and so the music comes alive with tons of raw emotion and we are all there in the middle of it. Riveting stuff indeed.

Charles Imperatori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Formats also available: 
CD, vinyl

Sleepwalkers

15 May 2017
Omer Klein
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Warner

Every few years one comes across an album such as Sleepwalkers. An album that jolts one awake with its brilliance, but Sleepwalkers is that kind of an album. It is played with talent and confidence that justifies putting Omer Klein on a scale normally reserved for the work of fellow pianist Tord Gustavsen, it has a rare and rarefied elegance and musicality that clearly warrants the comparison.

Klein is an Israeli born German based keyboardist whose talent reserves are deep, he does post rock as well as he does jazz and can stretch out in all directions. He has played with John Zorn and Avishahi Cohen and has been appearing with his trio across Europe and in the US, needless to say you should catch him if you can.

Klein is joined by two equally impressive partners, Haggai Cohen Milo on double bass and Amir Bresler on drums. The trio plays music that moves from classical to world to modern to the mainstream of jazz, blues and funk with a little Sati-like intimacy for good measure. Of the 13 original and dazzling pieces two tracks stand out; ‘Blinky Palermo’ with its lovely bass and piano interplay, and ‘Spilt Milk’ where’s Klein’s playing takes on a lyrical bent. As you can probably tell I quite like this musical gem, it’s a performance that is not to be missed. Sound quality is about par for a jazz trio recording, not ECM standard but it sounds natural and everything is in perspective. Downloads in 44.1/16 and 24bits are available from Qobuz, hard copies can be found in various European outlets. If you want to elevate your life a little higher, this sublime musical experience will definitely help.

Reuben Klein (no relation!)

 

Formats also available: 
CD, vinyl

New Path

2 May 2017
Yogev Shetrit
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www.yogevshetrit.com

Yogev Shetrit and his fellow musicians are a brilliant bi-product of the land they live in. It would appear that in addition to being a pressure cooker, Israel is a melting pot of many cultures and musical genres which are represented here in a polished and mighty impressive set of world music style jazz that draws inspiration from a very rich tapestry of Yemenite, Arabic, western jazz and samba styles and rhythms. Throughout the album the musical glue that bonds the performance is ‘Israeli music’ of a kind that only those who spent years of living there will be able to easily identify.

Shetrit’s trio includes piano, bass and drums and brings to mind another such trio from the same country that was led by the renowned bass player Avishai Cohen. This trio and the guests accompanying it through the album exhibit a verve, talent and confidence that belies their anonymity. The album is an exciting mix of melodious tracks that owe much to middle eastern and north African influence, in addition two of the tracks are pure hard bop, further illustrating the breadth and talent of this trio.

The album’s core group of players is made up of leader and drummer Yogev Shetrit, who was declared a prodigy in his very early youth and spent his formative years attending renowned music schools in both Israel and the US. He is accompanied by Avri Borochov on bass, and Gil Zohar on piano. They are joined by a very large group of other musicians, the list of credits includes: Omri Mor on piano and karkabou (metal castanets), Yuval Gerstein on guitar, Ariel Levi on saxophone, with Miryam Shetrit and Joel Covington on backing vocals.

New Path is available direct from the artist on Bandcamp. The album’s sound is intimate but the recording quality is average and slightly compressed. The album consists of 11 tracks and is just over an hour long. From Moroccan themes to hard bop this is a must for music lovers who wish to mix up their jazz with the extra pizzazz offered by the fusion of world music.

Recommended track Café Atlas

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
none

Live at Club Helsinki

10 Jan 2017
Club D’Elf
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Face Pelt Records

This conclusion to this review goes as follows: This is likely to be the most impressive release of 2017. Get it now. Live at Club Helsinki is as immense as it is intense. A double album that in uncompressed WAV form requires 1.2Gb of space on the hard drive, with a set of 12 tracks offering over two hours of music. It features one famous musician by the name of John Medeski, but don’t let that fool you, he is not at the forefront, he is in the same league as the other musicians in this Boston based band.

Medeski (employing an arsenal of analogue keyboard instruments including a vintage Mellotron and grand piano), is mostly supporting and not leading the Club D’Elf crew. The band consists of Brahim Fribgane (oud, cajon, vocals), Duke Levine (guitar), Mister Rourke (DJ), Mike Rivard (bass) and Dean Johnston (drums). I don’t know how often these guys jam together but the session is live and the synergy is incredible, in places their precision evokes starling formations, so incredibly unified is the musical ebb and flow. 

Club D’Elf’s music is a constant stream of almost any funk groove that one can imagine and enjoy with a tinge of north African influence. It is not a challenging album, but music lovers who are looking to find relief from the soft and mostly clichéd soundtrack of mainstream music will discover an endless source of inspiration, energy and talent of a calibre that one rarely encounters.

The sound is brittle, open and bright, the recording does not keep up with the musical brilliance, but even this doesn’t diminish the enjoyment that so much talent, verve and sheer depth of exuberance exhibited by all the musicians. As per the start of the review, Live at Club Helsinki is an extremely highly recommended musical jam without which 2017 will be paler for those who miss it.
Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
CD

Little Crimes

14 Dec 2016
Melissa Menago
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Chesky Records

Binaural recordings are made using a pair of omnidirectional mics mounted inside a pinnae-equipped dummy head at the precise location of the ear canals, capturing the same naturally-reverberant, three-dimensional sound a listener would experience if they were present at the performanc. Due to the way the brain processes directional cues, enjoyment of binaural recordings has long remained the preserve of headphone users. In 2012 however, Chesky Records developed Binaural+, a processing technique claimed to make binaural recordings sound spatially realistic through headphones and loudspeakers. Melissa Menago’s debut solo album Little Crimes, released in July, is one such recording to receive Chesky’s special engineering. Better known for being lead singer in rock band June Divided, this acoustic folk-styled live album is somewhat of a left-turn for the Philadelphian singer-songwriter. Recorded in a 130-yr old Brooklyn church during the middle of a thunderstorm - evident from the soothing pitter-patter of rain falling onto the venue’s roof! Little Crimes is a 12-track treasure trove of original compositions, reworked June Divided material and quirky medley covers of classics. Joined by her bandmates, Menago delivers a relaxed and utterly captivating 50 minutes of contemporary arrangements, underpinned by beautifully expressed lyrics that are stylised with a fun edginess and emotional vulnerability that demonstrate both a youthful innocence and a maturity beyond her years. Chesky’s faithful reproduction of the church’s rich and spacious acoustics adds immeasurably to the imagery by ushering you onto its pews to take refuge from the rain and witness Menago’s gently uplifting recital in all its understated elegance. Little Crimes is a little treat both for the ears and for the soul.

Richard Barclay

Formats also available: 
24-bit/192kHz DL, CD, vinyl

Upward

7 Dec 2016
Ross Hammond & Sameer Gupta
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Prescott Recordings

Ross Hammond is a genuine troubadour, seemingly spending his life on the road playing acoustic and electric guitars to anyone that has the sense to listen. His style on Upward will be familiar to those who appreciate the work of John Fahey and Ry Cooder, steel string picking on 12-string acoustic guitar with a strong folk and blues flavour. Here he is joined by long time collaborator, drummer and tabla player Sameer Gupta who sticks to the latter instruments throughout this eight track release. His playing here is more about feel than speed, it is clearly bedded in the classical Indian style but avoids its characteristic high speed solos, instead both musicians lay down a groove that doesn’t have a foreground beat but at the same time has a clear tempo. One of his comments regarding working with Hammond is “He goes in for a raw sound, something that's outside of what are considered the conventional barriers.” He’s not wrong.

This combination of instruments has its forebears in the work of John McLaughlin (Shakti) and Ry Cooder (Meeting by the River with VM Bhatt) among others, but Hammond and Gupta have a more gritty, down to earth sound. It’s a simple recording with each artist given their own channel and surrounded by the natural reverb of the studio. The tracks vary in length from the title track’s 4’37” to the 11’39” of ‘For Chris Ferreira’, the latter is one of the stand outs on the album and remains interesting and engaging throughout thanks to both musicians’ improvisational skills. Hammond recorded duets with the late Ferreira which are beautiful pieces and available as part of a subscription deal he offers via bandcamp.com. For $20 or more you get four records [WAV or FLAC downloads] from his back catalogue and an exclusive music selection each month. If you like his music you’ll realise that this is a bargain and a half.

Hammond’s playing appeals because it is honest, open hearted balm for the soul. It’s not about virtuosity although he’s clearly a great player and there is no studio flim flam to give it a smokin’ sound, just the open, vibrant sound of the acoustic guitar. Which when combined with the dynamics of clearcut tabla makes for an absorbing musical experience. If you only try one track make it ‘Being and Becoming’, it is a solid gone beauty of the rarest kind.

Jason Kennedy

Formats also available: 
Ltd CD

Rejected Scripts

3 May 2016
M.A Bakker
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www.mabakker.com

How do you pay the ultimate homage to a musician you love? Do you start a tribute band that imitates the artist’s original work, or do you create an inspired semi facsimile that is distinctive in its own right? M.A Bakker and his large band appear to have taken the latter approach with Rejected Scripts.
I have been a Steely Dan devotee for give or take 40 years so I can say that this is not a pastiche to the venerable duo behind that band, instead it pays homage to Donald Fagen. For those who fondly remember Nightfly this album will feel like an exceedingly comfortable pair of slippers. The milieu and even some of the scenes described are all familiar, the slightly sneering observations, the details that paint an era and its icons, it is Fagen down to the Chesterfield cigarettes. Nothing is identical yet everything is eerily familiar.
The tunes are funky in a charming mid nineties kind of a way. M.A Bakker is accompanied by a bunch of musicians who contribute to the merry Danospherics, the sound is tight and bright (very) it’s not a small band and includes:

Maarten Bakker - all music & lyrics, arrangements, bass guitar, guitars, keyboards, backing vocals (track 2 & 8), mixing & editing, recording engineer, artwork, catering
Warren Byrd - lead vocals
Peter Weissink - drums
Natasja den Toom - backing vocals (track 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 10)
Simon Feenstra - backing vocals (track 1, 3, 4, 5 & 6)
Anna Zeijlemaker - flute (track 5 & 9), piccolo (track 5)
Hans van Wingerden - trumpet (track 1, 6, 7, 8)
David Wilschut - tenor saxophone (track 1, 6, 7, 8)
Jos van den Heuvel - trombone (track 1, 6, 7, 8)

The recording is exact rather than sumptuous. It’s an enjoyable and very sophisticated tribute made by a talented bunch of musicians.
Rejected Scripst can be downloaded directly from the Bakker’s own very stylish site.
Favourite Track-Ming Zhao Paradise

Reuben Klein

Formats also available: 
none

Black Light

3 Nov 2015
Sonar
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Cuneiform

This album has many intriguing qualities; it is the most listenable avant garde music I’ve heard all year. Sonar have an expressive sound that is rhythmic and almost funky in places, but all in a prog-Sufi kind of a way. It is so precise it makes Steely Dan sound positively clumsy. Fans of King Crimson will find much to love about it and some have suggested it is album that they never made. It is rock jazz as opposed to the other way round, the sort of sound that fans of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree will cherish. It is also the best prog rock I have ever heard (not that I’m a big fan of the genre ) and it’s a wall of sound that makes you feel as if you are watching a giant wave rolling endlessly towards the shore.

The band of sound alchemists called Sonar are largely from Switzerland, they are Stefan Thelen (electric guitar), Bernhard Wagner (electric guitar), Christian Kuntner (electric bass) and Manuel Pasquinelli on drums. These guys are a breed apart, founder Stefan Thelen has a PhD in mathematics and studied with Robert Fripp, the other guitar player Bernard Wagner is a software engineer involved in Nik Bärtsch’s various ensembles.

The six pieces this album contains form a long'ish album of almost 50 minutes. It doesn't have a theme but does have a very distinctive and addictive sound. It has enough energy stored in it to power a small Midwestern town for the foreseeable and isn't easy to categorise, but it’s hard to turn off. For the audiophile it will sound a bit artificial but all in all it’s not a bad recording given the nature of the instrumentation. It’s hard to pick an ultimate single track that is better than the rest, for me it's a toss up between ‘Enneagram’ and ‘Angular Momentum’, but every track is a small masterpiece. As you can probably tell I was quite taken by its hypnotic presentation.

Reuben Klein

 

Formats also available: 
CD, double vinyl

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