Thursday, May 30, 2013

add 0344

The Tiger Lillies followed Shockheaded Peter, their inspired interpretation of Heinrich Hoffmann's grim cautionary tales for children, with another collaboration that might be even more inspired. The Gorey End uses the mischievous and macabre talents of The Tiger Lillies to interpret previously unpublished stories and poems by like-minded writer/illustrator Edward GoreyThe Kronos Quartet accompanies the trio on these lucky 13 songs, which were originally supposed to be part of a Shockheaded Peter-like theatrical presentation of Gorey's work. The project dates back to 1999, when Gorey, a fan ofShockheaded Peter and The Tiger Lillies' other projects, sent Martyn Jaques a box full of his newest writing. Jaques was working on the songs and was about to travel to the U.S. to play them for Goreywhen Gorey died of a heart attack in 2000 at age 75. Though Terry Gilliam expressed interest in directing the theatrical piece (what an event that would have been!), he was too busy; however, The Tiger Lillies didn't want to abandon the songs, so they and The Kronos Quartet recorded The Gorey End. Eventually, the album's release spawned a revue that played London's Lyric Hammersmith in 2003 and mixed The Tiger Lillies' songs with readings of some of Gorey's best-known works, including The Chinese Obelisks, The Curious Sofa, and The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a story of gruesome childhood deaths that recalls Shockheaded Peter. While there are similarities between Shockheaded Peter and The Gorey End, the newer album isn't as wild and freewheeling, despite a body count that is nearly as high as the older album's. Befitting the Victorian and early 20th century milleu of Gorey's work, The Tiger Lillies' and The Kronos Quartet music tends toward the stately and subdued, the kind of thing you'd expect to hear in the study or drawing room of one of the elaborate mansions in which Gorey's characters reside. At times, it's almost too subdued, as on "The Learned Pig," a song so serene that it understates its tale of a pig who learns to read and speak, becomes a fairground star, and is done in by a pack of its own kind. To the musicians' credit, however, they don't try to be overly quirky in their interpretations of Gorey's decidedly whimsical work. Indeed, songs like "Besotted Mother" -- the story of a woman so devoted to her child that she dresses her head-to-toe in white rabbit fur, with dire consequences -- and "Trampled Lily" are downright elegant. Even The Gorey End's more upbeat songs, such as "ABC," an alphabetical waltz of dreadful things ("A is for Arsenic someone thought fun/To include on the icing on top of a bun"), and "QRV," an ode to a sinister miracle substance, tend to be more sprightly than silly. The Kronos Quartetshines on "Weeping Chandelier," a zippy tango about a girl and her trained bats, and on the wonderful "Dreadful Domesticity," where their tremolo strings and soaring cellos add to the creepy atmosphere of this tale of a murderously dissatisfied couple. Indeed, the only drawbacks to The Gorey End are that its liner notes don't have any corresponding Gorey illustrations (although pictures from some of his older works are used), and, more importantly, that Gorey didn't get to hear how creatively and reverently The Tiger Lillies and The Kronos Quartet adapted his writing.


add 0343

It was such a simple concept. Producer Bob Belden (who has directed the Miles Davis reissue series) was talking with Times Square label owner Yusuf Gandhi about Miles' use of Indian instrumentation duringThe Complete On the Corner Sessions and wondered aloud what it would sound like if Indian musicians played Miles' music. Gandhi replied "Miles from India," and nearly a year later Belden delivered this brilliant set that not only features a number of India's finest musicians but a veritable who's who ofMiles' own sidemen. In perhaps the boldest move, Belden and the musicians looked well beyond Miles' 1972-1975 sessions with Indian instruments for inspiration, performing tracks from the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s (the same time span covered by Miles' associates on this album). Another fun thing about these performances is that some of Miles' sidemen play on songs they didn't originally play on -- like the opener, "Spanish Key," featuring Mike Stern and Dave Liebman. But despite some additional Indian percussion and vocalizing, "Spanish Key" doesn't vary much from the original. On the other hand, "All Blues" is completely transformed, with Ravi Chary's sitar taking the place of Miles' trumpet. The Gary Bartz/Rudresh Mahanthappa sax duet on this is a real treat, as are the presence and playing of Jimmy Cobb, who also played on the original 1959 Kind of Blue session. The fast version of "Ife" marks the entrance of monster bass player Michael Henderson and the wonderfully deranged guitar of Pete Cosey, who does not record nearly enough. After the lovely but relatively brief sarod-led "In a Silent Way," it's great to hear Cosey rip it up on "It's About That Time." He's nearly matched in intensity by Bartz's sax and Kala Ramnath's violin while Henderson does his thing with that killer Dave Holland bassline. Sterngets to reprise his role on the classic "Jean Pierre," paired with some great flute from Rakesh Chaurasia.
Chick Corea appears only on "So What," but turns in a great piano solo with some tasty inside-the-piano work. Like "All Blues," "So What" becomes something else again with the addition of a trio of Indian percussionists and a change in time signature. And while the bassline of "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down" doesn't really lend itself to Henderson's signature propulsive style, the percussionists lock in with him, providing a platform for more sick playing from Cosey. "Blue in Green" has Wallace Roney's trumpet singing with Shankar Mahadevan's voice and then sarangi in another sublime transformation. Here,Mike Stern's solo is as gentle as the one on "Jean Pierre" was noisy. Henderson and drummer Vince Wilburn kick it on "Great Expectations," which segues briefly into the introspective "Orange Lady" and back. Chary and Roney both contribute excellent solos and Cosey goes nuts (why doesn't he record more?). Fortunately, he gets plenty more space on the slow version of "Ife," both soloing and comping. The rhythm section of Henderson and Badal Roy on tabla is completely hypnotic here, providing a perfect base for languid solos from Dave Liebman and Gary Bartz and some nice spacy sounds fromCosey and Adam Holzman. The album closes with the only track Miles didn't record: "Miles from India," penned by John McLaughlin for this set. Scored for voice, piano, guitar, and the electric mandolin of U. Srinivas, it's a pensive and atmospheric track that nevertheless features some passionate soloing. And that's merely touching on some of the highlights. Folks like Ron CarterMarcus MillerNdugu Chancler, and Lenny White haven't even been mentioned, let alone some of the great Indian musicians also present here.
The essence of jazz is improvisation and expression, and Miles always sought out highly individual players. The beauty of Miles from India is how the players from different cultures and backgrounds meet on Miles' turf with their individual voices completely intact. Miles from India is not only an amazing celebration of the music of Miles Davis, it's also a tribute to the way Miles and Teo Macero changed the way jazz music can be made. Granted, it's the musicians involved who turn in these scorching performances, but this album was recorded in Mumbai, India, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Saylorsburg, PA (!?), and would not have been possible without the studio techniques Macero pioneered with Miles. Perhaps, like MaceroBob Belden will be remembered more for his production than his horn playing. Either way, with Miles from IndiaBelden has outdone himself and delivered a tribute that succeeds completely on every level. Kudos to all involved.

add 0342

The musical reunion between David Byrne and Brian Eno comes with a fair amount of baggage. After all, they produced some of the greatest records in rock history: the trio of Talking Heads records that Eno worked on, culminating in Remain in Light, and followed by the duo's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, where all manner of funky beats and freaky sampladelic rhythms were wedded to Pentecostal exorcisms and African ceremonial bush chants. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is a nearly 180-degree turn from the duo's collective musical past. These 11 songs are loopy pop tunes that wed Byrne's strange hearing of gospel and folk to Eno's continually evolving rhythmic and electronic palette -- they refer to it as "folk-electronic-gospel." Granted, Eno's compositional frameworks are all written in major keys, and Byrne's poetically funny, sophisticated lyrics express possibility and hope in the middle of cultural darkness, but while it's clear that the emotional component is shared between the two principals, this is far from "message" music. The set opens with "Home." Strummed acoustic guitars and drum loops textured by sonic wonkery introduce an elegantly simple melody where Byrne, at his full-throated best, sings: "The dimming of the light/Makes the picture clearer...I memorized a face so it's not forgotten...Come back anytime/And we'll mix our lives together/Heaven knows what keeps mankind alive/Every hand -- goes searching for its partner in crime." Brokenness and paradox are also addressed: "Home where my world is breaking in two/Home with the neighbors fighting/Home -- were my parents telling the truth?" Likewise, the title track -- with its warm, liquid guitars (à la Daniel Lanois), out-of-the-ether sonic architecture, and Byrne's lyric coming from both dream and reflection -- is slower and less jaunty, but poetically moving: "Oh my brother, I still wonder, are you all right/And among the living, we are giving/All through the night...." The backing choral voices give the track its "church" feel, but the message is more human and existential than divinely inspired. Another winner is "Life Is Long," which evokes remembrance as the continuation of the chain of human events. Its horn section touches on soul and rhythm & blues, but is blanched and diluted wonderfully. The only track that consciously attempts the rhythmic complexity of anything on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is "Poor Boy," which is cosmic science-fiction white-boy funk at its best. It's a warning against following the established order and rampant, empty materialism for their own sake -- its guitar riff comes straight outta the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar." Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is, despite the long odds, a truly inviting, musically adventurous, and mature musical statement. It reveals in spades how willing artists are capable of redefining themselves when they refuse to take themselves too seriously. This is unfettered joyful listening, and in its own small way, even profound.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

add 0341

Tom Ovans – Party Girl

(Floating World) UK release date: 8 October 2007

In any music reviewer’s vocabulary there always seems to be one adjective that get used more than any other: Dylanesque. Say it and people instantly know what you mean. Only a few seconds into this Texas based songwriter’s 11th album you are reaching for the “D word” straight away, but where Bob only took us briefly to Desolation Row, Tom seems to have rented us a room there.
Ovans’ mature, raspy, lived-in voice is reminiscent of Bob Dylan now, with an added dash of Tom Waits. However, this is good stuff in it’s own right and is often elevated beyond the status of a pale, Stars In Their Eyes tribute act. One of the songs- Both Sides of the Night, was originally written in Greenwich Village in 1975, helping to contribute to Party Girl’s golden age of Americana, Blood On The Tracks vibe.
Like Tom Waits, it’s one of those vampiric albums that you tend to only reach for after sundown. We’re hanging out drinking bourbon with the junkies and losers of skid row. As a lyric on Nobody Knows promises “You’ll meet the hustlers, you’ll meet the dream sellers, you’ll meet the boys and the girls building bombs in the cellar”. It’s a dark and moody experience, but sometimes very special.
The album was recorded in only a handful of sessions, while rare ice storms raged outside the studio. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and you can almost feel the freezing sleet trying to force it’s way in. The production feels a little raw around the edges, which is prefect for this collection of songs.
The title track breaks the ice brilliantly with it’s simple but memorable blues riff. Swagger is here in abundance and tracks like the grim despair of Hole In My Shoe betray a frustration with the world today. But nestled in amongst the blues rock are the real gems – some beautiful ballads of broken dreams and lost loves, of which Sugar Mama and Ooh Baby deserve special attention.
Ovans seems unlikely ever to shake off the Dylanesqe tag – it seems to work for him and he feels happy with it. The ghost of Bob looms large over this record in more ways than one – it’s ironic that it’s released on the same day as a massive retrospective of Dylan’s career. If Dylan had released this we’d be gushing over it, so it only seems fair that we should give Ovans his credit for a powerful and accomplished collection of songs. Enjoy the party.

add 340

Twenty seven years after it was compiled, the apocryphal Stompin' Room Only is finally released. The album, which suffers only from being the seam album between Marshall Tucker's tenures at Capricorn and Warner Bros, was recorded during the European tour in support of Carolina Dreams. Here are 11 tracks by the original band -- with guests on a few -- with two cuts from a Milwaukee 1974 show tacked on for good measure. This is Marshall Tucker as they have never been heard on record. Like the Allmans,the Tuckers were all about seamlessly expanding from one musical form into another. Whereas studio versions of "Can't You See," "Take the Highway," "Ramblin'," and "24 Hours at a time," would weave elements of jazz, blues, honky tonk, gospel, and Appalachian folk music into the body of a song, on these extended jamming excursions they fully indulged their passions, winding in and out of genres without seams or sudden shifts. On an elongated cover of B.B. King's signature tune, "The Thrill Is Gone," with a number of guests including Dickey Betts and Charlie Daniels (making for a four-guitar front line!) as well as Jimmy Hall and Chuck Leavell, Chicago blues, jazz, and country are all enmeshed simultaneously, as the hidden nuances in the song come to the fore. On the gloriously long "24 Hours at a Time," Tom Caldwell's bass moves through the various jazz eras as Daniels fiddles his ass off to keep time with Toy Caldwell's knotty, razor-wire leads. And for those fans of the Marshal Tucker Band whose gauge is the song, "Can't You See," there isn't a better one on record or bootleg that's better than this one. With its shuffling, funky backbeat, and Toy Caldwell's impassioned vocal leading the charge to his burning solos, it literally send chills up the spine. This is one of the few cases where a found "lost" recording lives up its legend.


add 0339

Trevor Dunn is well known as a bassist par excellence who plays and performs with John Zorn's Electric Masada and Moonchild units, and also as Mike Patton's collaborator and fellow agent provocateur in Mr. Bungle and Fantômas. He also plays with numerous other ensembles and leads his own jazz and mutant rock Trio-Convulsant. Fewer, however, know him as a composer of film soundtracks. Four Films isDunn's volume in Tzadik's Film Music series, and showcases Dunn's scores for three different directors --Peter Bolte (V.O. and Dandelion Man); Cameron Vale (White Noise); and Holly Neuberg (Glendale Blvd.). Dunn sequenced this collection aesthetically rather than according to soundtrack, so cues from one score may be inserted directly into another. It's rather irritating on one level, but if listening to a score in its entirety is your bag, you can program the CD player to do just that -- though you won't necessarily know what order the cues are placed in. Perhaps he should have offered more clues. This caveat aside, the sheer range of music found on this set, some with collaborators, some performed completely solo on various instruments, is actually quite surprising. From sparse, suspenseful cues such as "Contemplator" (with Shelley Burgon on harp) that are reminiscent of early solo pre-cinema work byMark Mothersbaugh to the eerie Morricone-esque arid Western theme with drummer Kenny Wollesenthat serves as the end title theme of V.O., Dunn's range is wildly impressive. So often when modern musicians are asked to score films they throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but as these 26 cues prove, Dunn employs just enough and no more. His economy of scale is dictated by his aesthetic, not his ambition. This also goes for the more electronic and industrial free-form pieces like the brief "Second Nightmare" sculpted for White Noise, where feedback and sound effects are set according to taut phrases of ebb and flow (or wonk and wail, if you will) rather than cluttering the frame with dense sonics. They have character, nuance, taste. Near the end of the album are four cues all in sequence for White Noise that further illustrate this principle. "Fire Disco" (it sounds exactly like one) has a beautifully vulgar French narration by Olivier Conan to introduce the notion of atmospheric if not musical excess first employed by composers like Serge Gainsbourg. The Lynchian suburban-bliss-as-surf-music sounds of "This Boardwalk" offer a lovely evocation of exactly the sort of place Glendale Blvd. is. Four Films is an excellent addition to both Tzadik's film music catalog and Dunn's personal one.


Monday, May 27, 2013

add 0338

The poet/performer Vinicius de Moraes and the vocalist Odette Lara make a wonderful team, and though their voices aren't heard together as much as they should be here, Vinicius & Odette Lara is a warm, inviting collection. The dozen songs are all originals -- by de Moraes and old friend Baden Powell, who also appears as a musician -- and usually present Lara and de Moraes trading lines, or Lara taking the verses while de Moraes handles choruses. The breathtaking "Samba Preludio" is one of the few actual duets; after a preface featuring a mournful de Moraes over a sawing cello, Lara sings a few lines alone as well before the pair's voices intertwine (even while they sing different lines). Moacyr Santos' arrangements range from Brazilian bossa to string orchestra pop to anthemic soul-jazz, with plenty of trumpet and flute as well as a warm cocktail piano and the usual sewing machine bossa percussion. On "Deve se Amor," playful reeds and high-note trumpet accent a smooth, powerful vocal by Lara. It's a bit disconcerting to hear a Brazilian vocal album without recognizing at least one standard, but Vinicius & Odette Lara is a challenging, entertaining work of jazzy Brazilian pop.


add 0337

Nguyên Lê is a fusion guitarist who has versatility, leaves space, and does not mind caressing a melody now and then. On 3 Trios, he is heard with three different trios, all of which are impressive and engage in close interplay with the leader. , who contributed nine of the 11 selections, is the lead voice throughout despite occasional solos from his sidemen. The music is adventurous and unpredictable, with evenThelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser" being turned into creative fusion. 3 Trios is worth checking out by fans of rockish guitar solos.


add 0336

Well to the Bone is Scott Henderson's third outing as a leader apart from his group, Tribal Tech, the band he co-founded with electric bassist Gary Willis in the mid-'80s. As one of the finest fusion guitarists of his generation, Scott Henderson returns to his blues roots with a program of ten songs that feature multi-layered tracks of guitar and a few that pay tribute to the blues-rock of the '60s and the '70s. Henderson's six-string virtuosity is accompanied by Kirk Covington on drums and John Humphrey on bass. Special guest vocalist Wade Durham pours on the bluesy gusto sauce on "Lady P," adds a few of Jimi Hendrix's phrasing techniques on "Devil Boy," and creates a new funky blues direction on "Dat's da Way It Go." Vocalist Thelma Houston puts her diva stamp on "Lola Fay," a sludgy blues shuffle, and on the title track. These songs mark her return engagement with Henderson, who featured her on his 1997 Tore Down House. Overall Scott Henderson's playing is awesome on all tracks and his experimentation with tones from several guitars, amps, and mic-ing only adds more musical adventures for his listeners to enjoy. He especially flaunts his blues/rock virtuosity on the title track and on the power ballad "That Hurts." This song rocks you right to your tone center. Well to the Bone is Henderson's best blues/rock outing since his 1994 release, titled Dog Party.


Friday, May 24, 2013

add 0335

At first glance, the album title Happy Songs for Happy People seems almost as ironic as the name of their previous album, Rock Action. After listening to the album, however, it's apparent that its title isn't just meant as a joke. Though "happy" isn't necessarily the first word that springs to mind when describing the band's intricate, brooding style, it is a word and emotion that is both simple and profound, much like the direction Mogwai's music takes here. Happy Songs for Happy People takes the focus and restraint ofRock Action to greater lengths, but it never feels like a rehash of their previous work. The palette of sounds the band uses -- which includes rolling guitars and pianos, swelling strings, persuasive but un-showy drumming, and occasional forays into distortion and electronics -- is a relatively small one, but the band uses it wisely on tracks as diverse as the lovely, understated "Kids Will Be Skeletons" (arguably the "happiest" song on the album) and the gloriously dense finale, "Stop Coming to My House," which piles layers and layers of distorted drums, guitars, and synths atop each other. Mogwai also employs its usual quietly beautiful/explosively noisy dynamic formula expertly, particularly on the gorgeous "Killing All the Flies," which feels much longer (in a good way) than four and a half minutes.
Old-school Mogwai fans disappointed by the relative brevity of most of Happy Songs for Happy People's songs should be pleased by "Ratts of the Capital," which, over the course of eight minutes, nearly reaches the epic proportions of the Young Team/Come on Die Young era. Once again, though, it's not merely a return to their old sound: The track begins with darkly chiming guitars and xylophones and then builds to a crushing climax, but even its heaviest moments are leavened with beauty, and its nearly symmetrical rise and fall make it fit perfectly with the rest of the album. Fortunately, though, the new techniques Mogwai explores on this album are just as satisfying, if not more so, than the band's familiar ones: "Golden Porsche"'s richly mellow bass and pianos sound more akin to Americana than post-rock, while "I Know You Are But What Am I?"'s shuffling, piston-like rhythm and twinkling synths are both brooding and childlike. A strangely dreamy, reverent feel winds through the album, surfacing on theSpiritualized-esque "Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep" and "Moses? I Amn't," which has a buzzing synth bass so deep it makes your brain vibrate. In some ways, Happy Songs for Happy People is almost tooconsistent -- by the time its second half rolls around, it's easy to take its dense beauty for granted. The upside is that it's one of those rare albums where you're convinced that you've just heard the song that is going to be your favorite -- until you hear the next song, and then the song after that. With Happy Songs for Happy PeopleMogwai gets to have it both ways -- it's ironic and sincere, concise and expansive, challenging and accessible, and it's one of the band's best albums, no two ways about it.