Friday, August 30, 2013

add 0399 mago oscuro

Dark Magus is a live recording of a very specific 1974 Carnegie Hall date that included most, but not all, of the members who recorded the classics Agharta and Pangaea. While drummer Al Foster, bassist Michael Henderson, percussionist James Mtume, and guitarists Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas were all present, the key element of Sonny Fortune was not yet in the band. Saxophonists David Liebman and Azar Lawrence were doubling in the saxophone chairs, while Dominique Gaumont, with his Jimi Hendrix-styled effects and riffs, was the band's third guitarist. The deep voodoo funk that gelled on the aforementioned recordings hadn't yet come together on this night at Carnegie, near the end of a tour. Featuring four titles, all of them Swahili names for the numbers one through four, Dark Magus is a jam record. In his liner notes to the CD issue, Liebman explains that this wasn't the band at its best -- perhaps he was referring to his playing, which is certainly unimaginative compared to what the rest of the band is laying down chromatically. By this point, Miles was no longer really rehearsing his bands; they showed up and caught a whiff of what he wanted and went with it. Rhythms, colors, keys -- all of them would shift and change on a whim from Davis. There were no melodies outside of a three-note vamp on "Wili" and a few riff-oriented melodics on "Tatu" -- the rest is all deep rhythm-based funk and dark groove. Greasy, mysterious, and full of menacing energy, Dark Magus shows a band at the end of its rope, desperate to change because the story has torn itself out of the book, but not knowing where to go, turning in on itself. These dynamics have the feel of unresolved, boiling tension. Gaumont's effects-laden guitar playing overshadows the real guitarists in the band: Cosey and his partner, the rhythmically inventive Lucas.Gaumont doesn't fit naturally, so he tries to dazzle his way in -- check the way Miles cuts his solos off so abruptly while letting the others dovetail and segue. Ultimately, Dark Magus is an over-the-top ride into the fragmented mind of Milesand his 1974 band; its rhythm section is the most compelling of any jazz-rock band in history, but the front lines, while captivating, are too loose and uneven to sustain the listener for the entire ride.


add 0398 chick

Chick Corea may have formed a new band, but still has ghosts from the Return to Forever reunion on his mind. Just check out the cover of The Vigil (named for this group) with its obviously L. Ron-inspired theme and track list ("Galaxy 32 Star 4"?). What year is this? That's not to make light of the music.Corea's international ensemble includes drummer Marcus Strickland, French bassist Hadrien Feraud, Britain's Tim Garland on reeds and winds, and guitarist Charles Altura. While this is an electric band, it's not just a fusion group. These seven tunes (five are over ten minutes) reflect some ofCorea's richest writing and arranging in years. While "Galaxy 32 Star 4" indulges fusion, Strickland's Latin-tinged kit work and guest Pernell Saturnino's hand drums root this seemingly sprawling jam in the earth. Corea's solo moves toward the edges, but his melodic vamping on Feraud's bumping bass solo and Garland's gorgeous soprano arpeggios break it out of the genre lock. "Royalty," dedicated to mentor and friend Roy Haynes, features acute, crystalline melody lines exchanged between the pianist, Altura, and GarlandStrickland -- Haynes' grandson -- swings deftly and physically to kick it into overdrive and bring it home. Samba flavors the melody and pace of "Portals to Forever," butFeraud's chunky, angular bass playing propels the rhythm outward, shifting tempi, yet Strickland andSaturnino counter and keep it rooted in Brazil. When Garland's tenor enters to trade lines with Altura, post-bop enters to bring it to a close. "Pledge for Peace," with Ravi Coltrane guesting on tenor, commences speculatively with a spacy, imaginative frame that pays tribute to John Coltrane's early modal explorations and follows a line of transformation as the band engages modern creative post-bop through the middle before returning it to its Eastern-tinged mode in the extended outro. "Legacy," the album's final cut, is also its best. Garland's full-throated tenor and Altura's angular six-string ride atop popping snare and kick drum and guest Stanley Clarke's ebullient bass playing. Corea's solos engage and complement each player, while remaining the centerpiece. The colors, textures, and expansive rhythmic palette that surround him eventually create a maze-like melody that inserts itself into individual solos and falls away unexpectedly, bringing The Vigil to a close with intense clarity and focus. As a band, the Vigil is exciting as much for its potential as for the multifaceted talent the group members put on display here


add 0397 tedeschi trucks

Made Up Mind, the second studio album from the Tedeschi Trucks Band, contrasts considerably withRevelator in that it showcases the strength of an 11-piece band willing to experiment as they assimilate inspirations -- from Stax, Muscle Shoals, Motown, Delaney & Bonnie, blues, and jazz -- and incorporate their various experiences into a new whole. Co-produced by Derek Trucks and Jim Scott, there is an increased emphasis on songwriting and more sophisticated arrangements. Susan Tedeschi and Trucks invited friends to contribute to these songs, adding perspective and finesse; they include Doyle Bramhall IIJohn LeventhalGary LourisEric Krasno, and Sonya Kitchell.Tedeschi's voice has developed into one of the most expressive in modern music; it's become the band's focal point, and she receives outstanding choral support from Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers.Trucks' lead and slide guitar playing have evolved, creating new possibilities for the instrument; it remains the anchor of musical direction for this massive ensemble, which also boasts a horn section, keyboards, two drummers, and four alternating bassists. It always stands out, but only dominates when the song calls for it. The title track opener is a roaring blues-rock boogie. Tedeschi wails atop punchy gospel piano from Kofi Burbridge and a ripping slide guitar solo with horns blazing. A funky clavinet introduces the Sly Stone-inspired "Misunderstood." Trucks' silvery wah-wah guitar drives chunky horn fills, a grooving B-3, and tough vocal exchanges between the vocalists. Tedeschi andSaunders Sermons duet on the fingerpopping soul tune "Part of Me," which recalls Motown's early years; his sweet falsetto is the perfect foil for her grainy contralto. Trucks' guitar fills accent the call and response vocals in the second half, and the Northern soul melody is contrasted by a grittier Stax-style horn chart. The ballads -- the spiritually poignant "It's So Heavy" and the devastating, broken love song "Sweet and Low" -- with their subtleties and canny arrangements display a real TTB strength. It is no mean feat to deliver music this intimate and personal with such a large ensemble. On the rockers, everybody is engaged at a heightened level, as in the funky, grimy, blues-rock strut of "Whiskey Legs" and the off-the-rails roil of "The Storm." On the latter, hard rock, blues, and jazz intertwine, and Trucksgets the opportunity to spiral off into the exploratory void. Closer "Calling Out to You" is simply his National steel guitar caressing Tedeschi's voice in a tender love song. Made Up Mind is tight; it maintains the gritty, steamy, Southern heart displayed on Revelator, but the growth in songwriting, arrangement, and production is immeasurable. Everything these players have assimilated throughout their individual careers is filtered through a group consciousness. When it expresses itself musically, historical and cultural lineages are questioned and answered incessantly in the tension of their dialogue, creating a sound that is not only instantly recognizable, but offers a nearly limitless set of sonic possibilities.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

add 0396 Carlos - bill

If there were ever a golden opportunity for Bill Laswell, doing his trademark remixing style on Carlos Santana's works was it. Here he chooses two of the guitarist's most spiritual works, one the enduring and profoundly influential Love, Devotion & Surrender featuring John McLaughlin, and the other a more obscure but no less regarded album called Illuminations, recorded with Alice Coltrane, among others. Laswell takes segments from each recording, alternates them, and attempts two things: to reconcile them to one another, and to create an entirely new work from the pair. By remixing the individual tunes, he creates a new vista to look at. His emphasis on bridging the gaps betweenSantana's more restrained style on Illuminations and his rollicking, screaming-into-the-heavens assault featured on Love, Devotion & Surrender presents an intriguing, but problematic, situation. Given the radically different emotions expressed on these records, it's impossible to equate the tenor of Santana's sound across the spectrum -- even by adding and deleting effects. For one, the material on Illuminations doesn't hold up as well. It was as much Coltrane's date as it was Santana's, and it wasn't one of her best periods. An example of this is on "Angel of Air," which opens the album. With overly lush string arrangements and crowded middle ranges where Jules Brossard's hopelessly hackneyed soprano saxophone playing crowds the guitar space, Santana's one moment of glorious fury in the entire 11 minutes is lost in the mix. Despite a rhythm section that included Dave Holland,Don Alias, and Jack DeJohnette, the tune fails to light. As the grooves give way to "A Love Supreme" by John Coltrane, with Larry Young's organ ushering in the melody before the guitars enter, the overly packed notion opens into spaciousness. Here, despite the familiarity Santana fans have with the material, in this context it comes off as something new, removed from its original space and placed in amore urgent body. And it's true: The material from this album is weighted with the burden of transcendence where the Illuminations tracks are merely fodder for added sound effects and deeper sounding rhythm tracks. They float where the Love, Devotion & Surrender material soars, punches a hole in the sky, and carries the listener into an entirely new hearing space. The lone exception from theIlluminations material in terms of its ability to transcend Alice Coltrane's string strangulation is "Angel of Sunlight," which Santana co-wrote with Tom Coster. Here, the entire band -- especially the rhythm section -- breaks loose of the lurid fetters and pushes Santana...hard. Listeners can hear the struggle as he tried to come up with ideas to engage the rhythm section. Laswell's attention to detail here is admirable. He pumps up Holland's bass in the mix and adds a shimmery tone to DeJohnette's cymbal work that gives the piece an urgency it doesn't possess on the original album. Unfortunately, he didn't mix Brossard's cheesy "I wish I was Coltrane" solo right out of the tune. Alas. Divine Light is a pleasant enough listen, one that provides enough depth and interesting pockets to keep one interested in the project. Musically, the majority of the album holds together. But the rough spots and black holes -- and there are more than a few -- mar the proceedings in such a way that is discouraging. Given that this is not Stevie Ray Vaughan but the king of spiritual six-string transcendence, it is not remiss to have expected more of Laswell -- especially given his wondrous treatments of Bob Marley and Miles Davis in the recent past. A near miss, but a miss nonetheless.


add 0395 Ray

Ray Davies took his time crafting his first full-fledged solo album Other People's Lives, delivering it in 2006 -- a full 13 years after his last collection of original material, the Kinks' final album Phobia. Such a long gestation period seemed justified, as the album was an exquisitely written set of short stories that benefited from such exacting attention to detail, yet the length of time between Phobia and Other People's Lives also suggested that Davies would not be returning with his second solo album anytime soon. As it turns out, that wasn't the case: Davies hammered out his second album, Working Man's Café, with a speed recalling the '60s and '70s, when new Kinks albums arrived every year. Appropriately for its quick turn-around, Working Man's Café is a looser, edgier record than its predecessor -- there's polish, but the guitars and rhythms jump, there's a vitality to the performances and the songs themselves bristle with contemporary headlines, bearing references to the vanishing middle class, internet isolation, and New Orleans, the site of both Hurricane Katrina and where Davieswas shot and hospitalized after defending a female friend from a mugger. Ever the contrarian, Daviesdoesn't dwell on his own troubles, they're weaved into part of a tapestry of vignettes of a world gone awry -- a common theme in his work perhaps (this is someone who pined for the village green in the midst of the psychedelic revolution), but such ornery nostalgia has fueled much of Davies best work, as it does here. Far from being an angry, impassioned screed against a world gone wrong (turn to Neil Young's Living with War for that), Davies writes with his signature wry, cynical eye, balancing his weary resignation with a sly wit. The songs have more bite than those on Other People's Lives, as do the performances, which makes Working Man's Café more immediate than its predecessor, yet it benefits from repeated plays as well, as those subsequent spins reveal that these 12 songs are as finally honed as those on Other People's Lives. And having these two albums arrive so quickly is proof that Ray Davies is back as a working songwriter, which is something to be celebrated.


add 0394 Neil

Neil Young spent his 2006 hawking Living with War, an album as immediate as a news bulletin, so perhaps it made sense that after its promo push was done he would retreat into the past, planning to finally finish Archives, the long-promised box set of unreleased performances from his vaults. Two individual discs of classic live performances were released in the winter of 2006/2007, acting as a teaser for the proposed fall release of the box, but like with most things involving Neil, things didn't work precisely as planned, as he once again pushed Archives to the back burner so he could releaseChrome Dreams II, a sequel to an album that never came out in the first place. The first Chrome Dreams was slated for a 1977 release, but for some indiscernible reason Young scrapped the album, parsing out some of the songs on subsequent albums, sometimes re-recording the originals, sometimes overdubbing, sometimes just sticking the previously unreleased tracks onto new albums. Among the Chrome Dreams songs that popped later are some of his greatest, including "Like a Hurricane" and an originally acoustic "Powderfinger" and "Pocahontas," along with other such excellent tunes as "Sedan Delivery," "Too Far Gone," and "Look Out for My Love," a pedigree that would suggest that Chrome Dreams II could include its fair share of major songs. Despite the inclusion of the long-bootlegged (and simply long at a lumbering 18 minutes) "Ordinary People," that's not quite true: it's a modest collection of stray songs and new tunes, pieced together in a fashion similar to 1989's Freedom, which in fact is where the 1977 "Too Far Gone" was finally unveiled.
Indeed, Chrome Dreams II shares more similarities to Freedom than the original Chrome Dreams -- so much so that it's a mystery why it's dubbed as a sequel, but it's a mystery not worth pondering, as there are few clues to their correlation, and even if a definitive answer to their kinship could be dredged up, it wouldn't illuminate the 2007 album, which is merely a good Neil Young album. Perhaps a little more than good, actually, as this has a shagginess and tattered heart that's been missing from his work for a long time, as he's spent a good chunk of the past 15 years pursuing conceptual works, ranging from thematic concept albums (Living with WarGreendale) to musical genre exercises (Are You Passionate?Prairie Wind). Here Neil dabbles in all his signatures, starting the album with the sweet country corn of "Beautiful Bluebird," then careening to the mildly menacing minor-key groove "Boxcar" before he gets to the light, almost bouncy soul-pop of "The Believer" (complete with call-and-response backing vocals), the Crazy Horse mysticism of "Spirit Road," the lazy loping country of "Every After," and the elongated guitar workout of "No Hidden Path." He even gets way out with "The Way," singing with a children's choir, a stab at innocence that's cheerfully at odds with the sludgy "Dirty Old Man," an unexpected revival of the boneheaded off-color jokes of "Welfare Mothers," and then, of course, there's the album's centerpiece, "Ordinary People," a winding epic recorded with the Bluenotes in 1988 that's dated in its splashy production (and perhaps its blaring horns, since Neil largely abandoned the Bluenotes after This Note's for You), yet it sounds immediate and gripping. It's the kind of song to build an album upon, which is precisely what Neil has done with Chrome Dreams II, using it as an excuse to round up other songs with no home. This doesn't make for an album that holds together thematically the way other latter-day Neil albums do, but its mess is endearing, recalling how charmingly ragged albums like After the Gold RushTonight's the NightRust Never Sleeps, and Freedom are, even if Chrome Dreams II never manages to soar as high as those classics.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

add 0393 valley of the giants

The indie rock supergroup Valley of the Giants aren't big pretenders with an ambitious scope of creating an artistically original album of rock & roll. If anything, they're slightly reserved about their various backgrounds and talents; however, an impressionable blend of many musical worlds and reflections of particular moods and spells of an isolated countryside carry the weight that is the Valley of the Giants' self-titled debut. It's a cinematic soundscape captured on a four-track recorder, an instrumental trail to unguarded moments of the most northern regions of America while also a trek to the more bleak ridges of the bottom of the earth. From the creaking flow of lap steel guitars and violins of "Claudia & Klaus" and "Westworld," Valley of the Giants' post-rock experiment is well underway. A careful and cautious approach to production is one step ahead as the band explores its sound. One can sense how comfortable each musician is, for Valley of the Giants breathes without grand pretext. The only thing the band is concerned with is musical and/or emotional discovery and allowing the listener the chance to embark on such a journey. Cartoonish horns just barely hint at the depth of "Cantara Sin Guitara," the sibling to "Westworld." Folk and world beats dance in the darkness of an afternoon while Spanish-flavored brass arrangements aim to break such grayness above one's head. The strain for sunlight continues on "Waiting for a Bullet," an Arabic-inflected illustration of heat and hunger, a red sphere of flames quenching one's thirst for passionate inquisitions. Such craving continues on "A Whaling Tale." This moving account of a penguin kidnapped by killer whales doesn't compose the glow and spark of the album-closing track, "Bala Bay Inn," but that's the purpose of this passage. Valley of the Giants allows you to start somewhere and end somewhere with actually feeling and thinking something. An unknown legend is present throughout the many sketches ofValley of the Giants. Not even the Dirty Three or Godspeed You Black Emperor! have touched upon something so tangible in song and thought.


add 0392 Thea Gilmore

Some people listen to the young Thea Gilmore and swear that they hear a modern Bob Dylan. Rather, listen to the lead track on this, her fifth album, and what you'll hear is arguably even better: Kirsty MacColl at the top of her game. Then move on to the next song, the snarling and roots-rocking "When Did You Get So Safe," and you'll hear more than a faint echo of Richard Thompson at the top of his as well. But ultimately such comparisons are misleading, because just about elsewhere else on this album all you'll hear is a sharp, thoroughly developed and really quite unique voice delivering songs that are personal without being maudlin and rootsy without being in the least derivative. This holds true even when she's covering other people's material, such as Bob Dylan's "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" (itself a rewrite of the classic protest song "Joe Hill"), Bruce Springsteen's "Cover Me," andthe Clash's "I'm Not Down." Elements of techno and electronica are tossed into the rhythmic mix from time to time, but the focus is always on gritty guitars and Gilmore's plainspoken voice, the better to show off lines like "I've learned your body like a nursery rhyme in Braille" and anthemic, meat-and-potatoes rockers like "Heart String Blues." If all of that sounds good to you, then you'll be even more excited to know that this package includes another entire disc of bonus material, songs that were available only on the Internet up until now. The sound quality of both discs is just a bit dodgy at times, but somehow that only adds to the album's gritty charm. Essential.